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Jewel of the Valley

The Little Antiques Cottage offers up refurbished old furniture.

“We paint to fit today’s home,” said Sharon Sanchez, who uses products such as Dixie Belle Mineral Paint to do refinish that quality-built cabinet or table.

She and her husband Dave Sanchez opened The Little Antiques Cottage – the inventory is a combination of the new and old – located just off the beaten path in downtown Ripon earlier this year.

This is the fourth store belonging to Sharon Sanchez, who similar-type businesses in Oakdale and Modesto. “We live in Ripon and were looking to open up a place in downtown,” she said.

While the address is 113 E. Main St., trying to find the place – try the back parking lot towards the end of the historic downtown section – may take some leg work.

As for the actual downtown, that part of Ripon is easily accessible off Highway 99.

“Our downtown is unique,” said John Mangelos, who wears many hats including businessman, historian, and writer.

His recently released “Ripon: Past & Present” – his second book with Arcadia Publishing in association with The History Press (Mangelos also put together “Images of America: Ripon”) – features many of the buildings that have stood the test of time.

“Buildings that are over 100 years old are still here. They’ve been repurposed but have not changed significantly over the years,” he said.

Mangelos along with his brother Joe and nephew Paul are owners of The Barnwood Arms Co., with the latter managing the full-service gun store at 120 E. Main St.

“I practically grew up in this place,” said Paul Mangelos, who noted that his father Joe Mangelos received his Federal Firearms License prior to opening the business in 1981.

Barnwood Arms is a full-service gun store and shooting range that’s been a downtown staple since 1990.

Across the way is A Matter of Taste Wine Bar & Bistro (115 E. Main St.) with a nightly-changing menu composed of two or three dinner courses using organic and peak-of-the-season ingredients.

Judith Valenzuela opened A Matter of Taste in 2019 and recently acquired The Vault Wine Bar.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Ripon eased the restriction of outdoor dining. A Matter of Taste made the most of the “Outdoor Dining within a Public Right-of-Way” ordinance with the construction of the shaded wood-decked section, occupying several front parking lot spaces.

Valenzuela added that the outdoor dining space can accommodate up 45 patrons while helping out her businesses during the time of COVID.

What’s evident in downtown is the lack of chain restaurants and businesses — outside of Dollar Tree.

In the same block as A Matter of Taste and Barnwood Arms include places such as Ripon Roadhouse and Mexican restaurants such as Las Casuelas and Taqueria Ripon El Molcajete.

Along the paver streets include places such as Isabe’s Vintage Café, Pizza Plus, Ice Cream Emporium, Ripon Veterinary Hospital, Ripon Mini Mart. Ripon Fun Factory (toys), Sky Nails, Divine Health Spa, and Organic Milk West, just to name a few, coupled with shops, banks, a library, places of worship and other businesses.

“We have a mix of different businesses,” John Mangelos said. “I think our downtown is blossoming.”

In 2017, the City of Ripon and the Ripon Chamber of Commerce collaborated to boost the downtown by recruiting new businesses and assisting the current ones through the creation of the Economic Development Program Committee. The Committee is made up of one Chamber representative, one City Council member, one City staff member and various business owners and community leaders.

“Surrounding cities are actively growing and recruiting – (this program) would like to see Ripon have similar opportunities,” said Debbie Daniels, who is the chairperson for the committee.

While the annual population of Ripon is around 15,000, there is one time of year when the small San Joaquin Valley town draws in thousands of visitors — almond blossom season.

Ripon has hosted an Almond Blossom Festival the last weekend of February every year (except for 2021 due to COVID) for the past 59 years. This annual community event that pays tribute to the area’s top crop features a parade, royal court, ‘diaper derby,’ putting local baby crawlers to the test, and traditional carnival out at Mistlin Park.