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Petaluma Profile: Chris Giacomini enjoy’s family legacy of Toby’s Feed Barn

UPCOMING EVENT AT TOBY’S FEED BARN

Man Booker Prize-winning writer Michael Ondaatje (‘The English Patient’) reads from his highly anticipated novel, “Warlight,” Tuesday, May 29, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. $30 includes a copy of the book. Toby’s Feed Barn, 11250 Highway 1, Point Reyes Station. For information, visit www.tobysfeenbarn.com.

Every morning, like many Petaluma residents, Chris Giacomini journeys to work.

But his commute is different from most.

He’s not stressing about an overscheduled day while jockeying for position on the dreaded southbound lanes of Highway 101. Instead, he heads down D Street, past the stately historic homes and their beautifully manicured front gardens. Soon, the view out his windshield opens onto dairies and farms — rolling fields where spotted cows nap and huge rocks jut out of the earth like sculptures. Giacomini says he never tires of the way the city quickly becomes the country. The landscape along his daily route and his destination are both part of his, and his family’s, history.

His first meeting of the day?

It’s a 9:30 yoga class at Toby’s Feed Barn, the family business.

Giacomini’s son Nick, and daughter-in-law Amanda, run Pt. Reyes Yoga right there in the store. And Giacomini’s daughter, Amanda, is now the third generation running Toby’s, a family operation that has adapted and grown through the years.

Giacomini’s Italian grandfather, Tobias Giacomini and his Swiss grandmother Celesta came to Petaluma looking for a better life. They bought a chicken ranch on Ellis St. and raised a family that included Chris’ dad, Toby. Toby grew up working on the family farm, raising chickens and cows. He graduated from St. Vincent’s high school, and one lucky night went to a dance at Tomales high where he met “Vet” Poiani, the daughter of Italian parents who grew up on a dairy in Olema.

Toby and Vet married and settled in Point Reyes, where Toby soon traded in his car for a truck, and the family business was born. He got up at 4 a.m. each morning to visit local dairies and haul their cream to the East Bay. Soon, he was delivering milk for 50 dairies, while also supplying them with grain and hay from his Point Reyes barn. The couple had three children and were married for 60 years.

Chris is the youngest of their kids.

“I grew up in Point Reyes,” the soft-spoken Giacomini says, describing an idyllic childhood where he walked to school every day, and went to Olema Sacred Heart church with his family on Sundays, eventually serving as an altar boy. When Giacomini was 8 years old, his parents arranged for him to take weekly accordion lessons from Guido Boccoleoni, in Petaluma.

“Petaluma was the big city to me,” Giacomini says.

Every Monday for about five years, his mother picked him up from school and drove him into town for his lesson. He looked out the window as the car zoomed past the dairies, the tilted wooden barns, the farmers frantically waving their arms as they rounded up cattle. Later, on weekends, Giacomini helped his father with the business delivering hay.

He went over the hill for high school, at Marin Catholic. After graduation, he searched for his place in the world outside the confines of the small town where everyone knew not only him, but his entire family. A youthful search for independence eventually led him to a graveyard shift in the kitchen at Harrah’s Casino in Reno. One night, Chris’ father showed up in that very kitchen at 4 a.m. The family business had split into two: the trucking side and the retail side, and Toby asked his son to run the store. Giacomini, recognizing an opportunity to combine his own dreams with his family’s legacy, was packed and back home the next day.

UPCOMING EVENT AT TOBY’S FEED BARN

Man Booker Prize-winning writer Michael Ondaatje (‘The English Patient’) reads from his highly anticipated novel, “Warlight,” Tuesday, May 29, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. $30 includes a copy of the book. Toby’s Feed Barn, 11250 Highway 1, Point Reyes Station. For information, visit www.tobysfeenbarn.com.

“I always wanted to run a community center,” he explains.

And that’s pretty much exactly what he’s done.

Still a working feed store, the Point Reyes institution now also houses a yoga studio, an art gallery, a weekly farmers’ market, a community garden and various events throughout the year (see sidebar).

Petaluma has changed a great deal since Giacomini’s days as a kid in Point Reyes, even more so since his grandparents first made their brave journey here. The dairy farms are dwindling as land becomes more scarce and valuable. Even so, Giacomini says, as he commutes to and from Toby’s Feed Barn, he still sometimes gets a flash of memory, of that magical feeling he used to feel on accordion lesson day, as his mom’s car slowed down along wide, smooth D Street, and they floated together into Petaluma.