Art as a Vehicle for Community

Escondido, Calif. may be experiencing a high COVID-19 case rate, but it hasn’t stopped local community members from rallying together to support local businesses in a safe, unexpected fashion.

A layer of dust caked on the box office ledge at Escondido, Calif.’s Patio Playhouse Community Theatre speaks to the challenge of keeping small businesses afloat during COVID-19. Unable to open to audiences for the past 8 months, the theatre is dark, but not sleeping.

That’s because, in Escondido, weathering the crisis has evolved into a community service initiative. After the recent installation of concrete barriers to reduce traffic lanes by half on Grand Avenue, local artists like Patio Playhouse’s Youth Director Brenda Townsend banded together to paint vibrancy into an otherwise bleak time. This work, completed by the Escondido Artists Association, was executed with the support of Rotary, the Downtown Business Association, the City of Escondido, and the Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to providing a colorful backdrop for the socially distanced foot traffic of Grand Avenue, the temporary barriers also allow restaurants to take advantage of the temperate Escondido weather by providing al fresco dining and take-out zones along the length of the street.

Less than a block down the road, a local coffee shop, Manzanita Roasting Company, has found a new foothold in a recently renovated historic theatre space, now serving triple duty with rooftop church services and outdoor films under the stars.

Opening a service-sector business during the pandemic seems a bold move, but Manzanita owner and head roaster Weston Nawrocki speaks optimistically about the challenge and opportunity.

Barista Sophia Rideout, shown here as dusk approaches on the 5th open day of the coffee shop, was raised in this local community and reminisces fondly of schools and businesses in the area, including Patio Playhouse. She, too, knows the Townsend family. The feeling of community is palpable.

Though, in true 2020 fashion, masks have found their way into a basket on the retail shelf and patrons must take their beverages outside, it is a golden day for Manzanita and for its hometown of Escondido as the community bands together to push through this pandemic together.

The Manzanita Roasting House is a craft coffee house located at The Grand Escondido, at 301 E. Grand Ave.