By Jamie Brady, Journal Contributor
Bill Berman, owner of Shelbi Ranch in Solvang, is much like his hero Roy Rogers. They are both cowboys at heart. They both appreciate the values that built America. And they both have been active Freemasons and Shriners and support their charities. Inspired by his hero, Berman opened Shelbi Ranch 10 years ago to raise funds for the Shriner’s Hospital for Children. Shelbi Ranch, located in the Hans Christian Andersen Square, donates all its profits to the charity hoping to help the children and families that turn to the hospital in their times of need.
“One trip to the Shriner’s Hospital to see the kids gets you hooked,” says Berman of his passion in supporting the hospital. The Shriner’s Hospital for Children accepts children up to age 18 who have orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate. The children receive care in family centered settings at no cost to the families. Berman says it costs $1.7 million a day for the care the hospitals provide, and that is with all doctors volunteering their time and resources.
Berman and his wife, Shelley, reside partially in Los Angeles where they own a clothing manufacturing company called Jody California. Berman says he heard about the Santa Ynez Valley 25 years ago in an article in the Los Angeles Times. After visiting the area, the couple fell in love with the small-town feel of the area. They purchased 20 acres of land and began coming to the Valley on weekends.
The couple decided that the Santa Ynez Valley would be a perfect place to start their non-profit business because of how friendly the community is. “It just felt natural to open the business here and not in Los Angeles,” Berman explains. The couple came up with the name by combining their names Shelley and Bill together. Shelbi Ranch is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
It originally began with the Cowboyland Museum and expanded from there. The museum is filled with western memorabilia and tours are given free of charge to groups, however a donation is appreciated. Now “The Ranch” consists of the Water Wheel Café and a hodgepodge of clothing and fabric stores. The café continues the western motif with a real player piano that plays tunes such as “Happy Trails.”
The menu is composed of classic American favorites such as hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries to name a few. The best part? Most of the menu items cost just a buck. Berman and his wife volunteer their time running the business and employ two waitresses to assist customers. “I love working here because it’s for a charity,” says Sarah Gach, an employee for four years.
The clothing stores in the building consist of apparel from the couple’s clothing manufacturing company, which is sold below cost. Berman’s daughter designs all of their clothing, including formal dresses and a western wear line. The couple says the formal dresses sold at Shelbi Ranch would be sold in retail stores for at least $60; however, here they cost just $10.
“I feel like we are providing a service to the community and raising money for the children,” says Berman. He adds that by selling the food and clothing at such reasonable prices, perhaps it will help those who couldn’t normally afford them. Berman says the economy is definitely affecting his clothing business right now, but Shelbi Ranch continues to thrive. “When people know what we are all about, they become regular customers,” he says. “Even if they don’t live here, they will come when they visit Solvang.”
Another part of Shelbi Ranch quickly growing in popularity is its discount fabric. The fabric is sold for 99 cents per yard, whereas many fabric stores can be $3 or more per yard. First-time customer Shelle Hendrix of Santa Maria was delighted to discover the place. “I am absolutely in love!” she says. “The prices are good and the fabric is good quality.” Hendrix says she will have a hard time going back to a regular fabric store where prices are so high.
“Many people will say that their experience here was the highlight of their trip to Solvang,” Berman says, agreeing. He says this is because he works hard and never gives up, which are values he learned in his 40 years as a Mason. The best piece of advice he says he ever received is, “’The harder you work the luckier you get,’ and now it’s time to give back.”
Berman says many of today’s kids are getting the wrong message because they have the wrong kind of heroes. He says when he was a kid his heroes were Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy, who were positive examples. This is why he chooses to help the children at the Shriner’s Hospital, so that they too, may have some positive heroes of their own.