Western Saloon on the market

David Briggs
Judy Borello has owned the Old Western Saloon since 1977. Now, her family trust has put the property on the market, and they are looking for a buyer who will preserve the bar. The pandemic closure has been tough, but the listing also comes at a time of change in town, with generational shifts prompting longtime owners to sell. Resident are hoping for local control.  
03/24/2021

The owners of the Old Western Saloon put their building on the market this month for $2.2 million, and they say they will only sell to someone who will preserve the bar. 

The historic two-story building consists of the saloon and two retail spaces downstairs, and 10 small offices upstairs. The liquor license is being sold separately. The Point Reyes Station Village Association is looking for a group of buyers who would keep local control.

The Western joins a neighbor on the market: Two doors down, the property that hosts Zuma, Black Mountain Artisans and the Marty Knapp Photography Gallery is on the market for $925,000. Two factors—the pandemic and generational shifts—appear to have stirred up a commercial real estate market in downtown that has been stagnant for years.

Michelle Pelton, a member of the family trust that owns the Western, said the forced closure for over a year has been tough and has led the family to re-evaluate their ownership. But the saloon still holds sentimental value. “It really has to be a feel-good transition for us, otherwise we’re not doing it,” she said. 

Ms. Pelton is preparing to reopen as soon as bars are permitted to have customers indoors at half capacity, and she is hosting a yard sale this weekend with 50 years’ worth of stuff from the basement. Marin’s current adjusted case rate of two-and-a-half cases per 100,000 residents would have to fall below one for bars to reopen indoors. 

The Western building is one of the oldest in town, constructed with brick as a mercantile in 1881 by Salvatore Grandi, according to historian Dewey Livingston. It collapsed in the 1906 earthquake and was rebuilt with wood. It opened in 1915 as the Western Hotel, and a second story was added. The bar went through a number of owners until Judy Borello bought the property in 1972; she has owned it ever since. Ms. Borello is in hospice care but still makes decisions, and ownership has been transferred to the family trust, Ms. Pelton said.

For many, the Western is the heart of Point Reyes Station. It exemplifies the town’s working-class roots; always dark, it’s an unpretentious spot for a reasonably priced drink. Even when Ms. Borello replaced the carpets, she kept the same rosy design from the ‘70s. On weeknights, a few regulars adorn the stools, while live music fills the room on weekends. A number of local bands, like the Haggards and El Radio Fantastique, call the venue home. The building features a speaker outside that broadcasts a cow’s moo and a rooster’s crow every day at noon and 6 p.m. 

Next door to the bar, Anne Kehoe has a salon, and barber Danny Morrissey cut hair for 22 years until he closed in February. Upstairs, 10 small offices are in the footprint of the old hotel.

The other main street property for sale, located on the other side of Cheda’s Garage, has two buildings. It was put on the market by Katherine and Ralph Braren, two Ross residents who have owned the property since 1977 and are ready to retire. The southern building may be the oldest building in town, built in 1882 by the town’s first developer, Galen Burdell, as a blacksmith shop. As could be expected, the property is in need of significant renovations.

While properties are changing hands, tenants are also moving around. This summer, Osteria Stellina closed, and Station House Café owner Sheryl Cahill decided to move into the space, leaving her old landlords looking for a new restaurateur. Several retail shops downtown have also opened, closed or moved in the past year.

The Point Reyes Station Village Association has never advocated for locals to buy a property before, but the changes downtown have prompted the executive committee to push for someone who is connected to the village to buy the Western. They were inspired by four West Marin residents who invested in the Emporium building last summer for $2.3 million, with a goal of keeping reasonable rents for all of the tenants. 

Like with the two properties now on the market, the Emporium building owners were past retirement age. The purchase benefited the Cabaline Country Emporium, Point Reyes Books, Bovine Bakery, Leona’s and several offices. “This isn’t a real estate investment by itself. There’s a double bottom line: It’s also an investment in the health of the community,” investor Dick Lemon said at the time.

Steve Antonaros, an architect and a member of the village association’s design review committee, said the Emporium purchase showed what is possible. Challenges with traffic, parking and septic systems are only going to increase, and collective buy-in to create large-scale solutions will be critical. Having a property owner who cares about the community is key, because they have all of the power, he said. If people both live and own property here, they can sustain the local economy and maintain the town’s character and self-reliance.

“When you have an enlightened property owner making informed decisions that people in the community support, you get the best result,” he said. “The opposite is someone who is only there for the financial benefits and might not even care what the people around them think.”