Constantly smiling, she chats up a middle-aged couple visiting from Ohio. On a wooden easel nearby, a trumpeter wearing a purple beret plays colorful jazz against a previous Pacific coast sunset that Tarp captured in vivid strokes of oil paint.
Tarp is one of 31 local artists who display and sell their work in the waterfront gallery at 425 Cannery Row.
"Artists and Cannery Row go together like Coke and pizza," said Dick Crispo,the noted local artist who helped start the Monterey Peninsula Art Foundation at a meeting in his living room in 1981.
Crispo looks on from a second-story window as Tarp locks up and descends into the night. His home, studio and personal gallery are next door to the collective's gallery, which was his boyhood home.
"People come here looking for artists because they associate artists and writers with Cannery Row," Crisposaid.
Cannery Row was made famous in John Steinbeck's novel of the same name, written in 1945. Even then, Steinbeck's first-chapter description of Monterey's sardine-canning district reads like an elegy, as though he sensed the rowdy fish-industrial character of the place would soon disappear.
"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light.
Fish are no longer canned on Cannery Row as they were then, when the waterfront smokestacks were operating and the buildings were mostly covered with corroding corrugated metal.
Today, the flavor of the Row as Steinbeck depicted it lives on in the vibrant characters making their living on this meandering street.
Among them are local businessmen braving the frigid business climate. There's thelocal firefighter who opened a frozen yogurt shop in July.
The newcomers join the entrenched businesses that have thrived in the area for decades, including the Sardine Factory, the Whaling Station, the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa and the fun shops in the Bear Flag Building. And the Intercontinental recently opened a waterfront resort known as The Clement. Mix in the franchise presence - Bubba Gump's, El Torito, the Chart House and the Holiday Inn - and Cannery Row has emerged as one of California's premier tourist destinations.
But if there is a savior for Cannery Row, a central focus to ensure a healthy flow oftourists to the place, it's the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The Aquarium, which marked its 25th anniversary on October 25, is today the main draw for visitors to Cannery Row. Aquarium officials estimate that in 2009 about 1.9 million visitors will enter and be inspired by magical worlds of live kelp forests, sea horses, sea otters and jellyfish.
"It really anchors one end of Cannery Row," said Mimi Hahn, the aquarium's director of marketing. "And in our surveys we see that people find our exhibits actually inspiring. When you come to the aquarium, you're seeing what's right under the water.
In 2006, aquarium staff began partnering with local restaurants to cultivate awareness in Cannery Row kitchens about sustainable seafood eating habits. Twenty-four restaurants participate in the free partnership, in which they are asked not to serve seafood that is on the aquarium's "red list." The partnership seeks to help tourists and locals quickly implement consumer knowledge they glean at the aquarium.
"People who go to the aquarium are generally environmentally aware and they choose restaurants that are similarly motivated," said Sheila Bowman, senior manager of outreach and educa-tion for the Seafood Watch program.
Appropriately, sardines — the bread and butter of businessmen on the Row during the early 1900s — are on its list of best choices for seafood purchases on the West Coast.
They're back: Down to business
"This area is missing sardines," Warnick said. "I was walking to my car one day and just thought, 'Hey, sardines would work.' With the history and tourism here, it just seemed to fit."
Tucked next to the Fish Hopper restaurant, Warnick's shop this summer began selling boneless, skinless sardines for about $7 a can, in addition to other canned seafood. With his kitschy label on T-shirts and the sardines receiving good reviews among foodies, business is good, Warnick said. Whole Foods will also soon begin stocking Warnick's sardines, which are fished from as far north as Washington.
Cannery Row Sardine Company is one of a spate of new businesses in Monterey with plans to become mainstays for locals and tourists. Another good bet is Myo, a self-serve frozen yogurt shop at 685 Cannery Row.
Stuart Roth, an outgoing Monterey native and career firefighter with the Monterey Fire Department, opened Myo in July with longtime buddy Paige Meyer and two additional business partners. The Row previously had no frozen yogurt shops.
Myo, for Make It Yourself, is sparklingly clean and blindingly colorful. It offers constantly changing flavors and types of frozen yogurt as well as toppings ranging from Fruity Pebbles to fresh fruit from Del Monte Produce.
"Cannery Row is just a magnificent spot," he said. "It's got everything, so much to offer. It's a neat area, and for locals I think it is underutilized."
Over at the Little Hat Shop, at 645 Cannery Row, Nicole Chalardpru and her family of Thai Americans are knitting up hats in just about every color and style imaginable.
Many are sized and themed for children, including a series of fruit-themed hats. Each is made by hand.
"You can't just go anywhere and find these," Chalardpru said. "It's a unique product. We have fun making them. Once you start doing it, you just can't stop."
Learn more about the Monterey Bay area at MontereyBayAdventures.com.