When Toby Giacomini sold the family car in 1942 and swopped it for a pickup, announcing that he was “going into trucking,” he couldn’t possibly have known he was starting a family business that would span three generations and still be going strong nearly seventy years later. But he was a natural entrepreneur and with that pickup he began hauling milk and cream from West Marin across to the East San Francisco Bay. Up at 4am every day, he visited the local dairies and then drove to San Rafael and onto the Richmond ferry.
By 1970 Toby had a fleet of trucks and drivers picking up milk from more than 50 dairies. He also supplied farmers with feed and grain from a barn located on 3rd and B Street in Point Reyes. One by one his sons, Joe, Toby Jr. and Chris, came to work for him. Joe handled the hay and feed, Toby Jr. managed the trucks and Chris worked in sales. “But,” Chris explains, “I was keen to develop my own place within the business, so I suggested we open a general store.”
In 1976 Toby’s Feed Barn opened on Main Street selling fresh produce, that was personally collected by Toby every day from the Central Valley; antiques; gifts and kitchen ware; houseplants; saddles and tack; plus hay, grain and pet food.
“I also wanted to create a space where the community could come together and share information and celebrate with each other,” says Chris, who is now the owner of Toby’s. “So we opened on Western Weekend with a huge party. We provided breakfast and a Country and Western band played in the barn.”
The store was an instant success and Chris set about creating the community space he dreamed of. Starting with a children’s Festival of Lights Christmas party, at which Toby dressed up as Father Christmas and rode into the barn on a fire truck. The party was also a fundraising event for Halleck Creek, a ranch in Petaluma where disabled children learn to ride horses.
It was the first of many annual events and fundraisers, including celebrations for Cinco de Mayo and a Halloween Carnival. (Over the years Toby’s beneficiaries have included the Artists in the Schools program; Marin Organic; KWMR and Toby’s Playground.)
Soon locals began to book the barn for weddings, birthday parties and concerts. An area was created outside for a community garden that is still thriving today. A group of Marin farmers started meeting once a month to discuss organic production methods. And every morning fellow Point Reyes business owners met to practice yoga in an empty space behind the barn.
“Great things grow from small seeds,” Chris says, “and in 1998 the farmer’s discussion group evolved into Marin Organic. Two years later Toby’s hosted the first Point Reyes organic farmer’s market and in 2001 my son Nick and his wife Amanda opened Yoga Toes.”
On top of all of this Toby’s has become an important cultural center. In 1990 an art gallery opened adjoining the store, which has featured many of Northern California’s most prestigious artists including Susan Hall, Wendy Schwartz, Bruce Mitchell and Nancy Stein.
And in a creative collaboration with Point Reyes Books, Toby’s Feed Barn has turned into a literary salon, hosting some of the great names of American writing such as Robert Hass, Michael Pollan and Gary Snyder.
Where else can you listen to a Pulitzer Prize winning author and go home with fresh strawberries, summer bedding plants, the perfect gift for a friend and a bale of hay? Chris and his daughter Melissa handpick all the gift items and as ever the fresh produce arrives daily. There is no doubt that Toby, who passed away in July 2007 at the fine old age of 88, would be extremely proud of his legacy.
More about Toby’s
- Toby's Playground Dedicated to Toby Giacomini in honor of his playful spirit and love of children, the playground in down town Point Reyes opened in May 2008.