It was tried many times before but always the efforts petered out, so no one was sure what kind of turnout to expect.

“I guess the first question has been answered,” said Marc Owens as the courtyard in front of Dennee’s Distinctive Furniture began to fill up with Santa Ynez business owners called to meet about the possibility of organizing. “People are interested. This is great.”

Representatives of about 35 businesses showed up for the meeting while others called ahead to say they were interested but unavailable to attend. Of those present, 20 signed on as volunteers to be a part of an organizing or development committee.

Owens, of Owens and Jakkola Tax Professionals, facilitated the June 21 meeting, which was hosted by Mia Murphy of Dennee’s. It was prompted by the efforts of the Solvang Chamber of Commerce to get people talking and to perhaps join their ranks.

“As a relative newbie, I think this is a very unique community and I think we should keep it that way,” said Trish Ladner, who expressed concerns that pairing with other towns might detract from the special feel of Santa Ynez. That sentiment seemed representative of the majority opinion.

Owens explained that the goal for the evening was to determine first if there was interest, and second to form a committee of five business owners to explore the costs – both in terms of dollars and time – that forming a business organization would require.

“The big advantage of joining another group is that they already have a structure,” said Owens. “We will need to raise seed money to hire an attorney.” He noted that initially the cost of creating a structure will take away from what they might otherwise be able to do.

But there also benefits from being independent. “What we gain is autonomy. This is a different community – a different atmosphere,” continued Owens.

Owens went on to relay the history of local businesses’ attempt to organize. In 1978 there was a Santa Ynez Chamber of Commerce, which has long since disbanded. Following that, there were several other attempts to organize, but always the lion’s share of the work fell on the shoulders of too few, causing the demise of the fledging attempts.

Brian Asselstine reminded the group of the Commercial Property Owners Association, which put the town’s sign in place. The organization is presently dormant, but the legal structure is still in place. Asselstine offered it up as an already established structure, noting the name could always be changed later.

Discussion turned to whether a “business organization” or “Chamber of Commerce” should be formed. Owens explained that, as there will be no attempt to join any national organization, the only difference is the words chosen for the name.

He noted that having a “Chamber of Commerce” – for good or bad – allows for certain brand recognition, but urged attendees not to put the cart before the horse. He suggested they first decide whether they want to create an organization before they get bogged down by what to name it.

Mary Harris, executive director of the Santa Ynez Valley Hotel Association who is a resident of Santa Ynez, warned owners to think about what it is they want monetarily to get out of any organization they form. Los Olivos, she said, wanted to get public bathrooms.

Some owners agree Santa Ynez could also benefit from public restrooms. But there were other concerns voiced as well.

Glenn Ainsworth, of Harrison Hardware, says he gets so busy at his shop that he doesn’t have time to learn what his fellow shop owners have to offer. He would love to be able to refer his customers to local stores that can meet their needs when he can’t.

Many in the group seem to indicate that their No. 1 priority would be to develop a town webpage and perhaps an app for smart phones. There was also talk of creating a tourist-type map of local businesses.

The one thing all were in agreement on was that to make it work, they will need to step up both with respect to funding, but more importantly, by putting in the time and effort required. It isn’t enough to want an organization; they need to be willing to put in the hours to make it happen, noted Owens.

“There is nothing worse than death by committee,” he said, expressing his hope that the group will give the development committee the authority to figure out what is best, and then stand with them. No one will get all that they want out of whatever organization is formed because compromises will need to be made.

Owens is sorting through the list of volunteers in an effort to get a balanced cross-section of talent that represents the many kinds of businesses in town. He hopes to schedule a meeting for the development committee as soon as the list is confirmed.

For more information, business owners can contact Owens, who will forward questions to the committee, at