As numerous “best of” periodical awards have noted, Cambria’s a great place to visit. But what those magazines and online surveys may forget to note is that when some people visit, they wind up staying, some of them for a long time.
Kathleen Cott Kirby came to the Central Coast in 1976 to attend Cuesta College. Three years later, the graduate wound up working for family friend Del Clegg at Cookie Crock Market’s old location on Main Street in Cambria.
“I went to work for him thinking, ‘This will be temporary,’ ” she said.
After all, she had a degree in social science and child development.
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“You know how that goes,” she said. “Thirty-five years later, I’m still here.”
For more than a quarter-century, she was store manager.
Cambria is her beloved home, because it’s “a small town, with everybody helping each other out through thick and thin,” Kirby said. “I’ve always been a small-town girl. I’d never survive in the city.”
She loves North Coast traditions, such as the annual Fourth of July celebrations at Shamel Park and the Pinedorado parade down Main Street on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. “We close the store, so all the employees can see it.”
The town of about 6,000 residents has “grown a little” and changed since Kirby arrived, but its expansion has been stunted somewhat by a shortage of water. Many homeowners don’t live in Cambria full time, and hundreds of houses are used as short-term vacation rentals.
“But the sense of community is still here,” the longtime Rotary Club member said. So are some of the “old-timer” characters who contribute so much to the town’s quirky charm.
“They remember when Bank of America was in the brick building, when the Crock was at its old location, and everything was so quaint you could literally roll up the streets after summer, because the town was like, dead.”
These days, Cambria’s been discovered by many. The tourism season is year-round, bolstered by temperate weather, spectacular seaside scenery, accessible trails and biking routes, a blufftop boardwalk along the ocean, a 430-acre, oceanfront, community-owned park, rolling hills and the town’s trademark Monterey pine forest, a rare native stand.
And as Kirby looks toward retirement, there’s no doubt where she’ll be in Cambria, her hometown.