Santa Barbara store owners hopeful as traffic increases
Marlene Taylor, owner of Desert Rose Hat Co., hears a lot of sarcastic comments about her decision to open a business during the pandemic. “What a great time to open,” people laugh.
But to her, it hasn’t been that difficult — despite opening her doors in La Arcada Plaza just as the state locked down in December.
She enjoyed that time, she told the News-Press, because almost all of her customers were local. She noticed that many seemed to be rediscovering small business after months without shopping in person.
Since then, she’s seen business increase and is excited for more sales ahead.
Optimism was a theme Sunday, as the News-Press asked business owners and sales associates how sales are trending. Those who had been open prior to the pandemic said sales are behind pre-pandemic levels but getting close to historic trends.
Eric Kelley, owner of Book Den at 15 E Anapamu Street, has noticed an influx of Californians from Los Angeles and San Francisco since vaccinations became widely available. He attributes his recent revenue, though, to locals.
“We came out of the pandemic okay because Santa Barbarans are really loyal to their local stores,” he told the News-Press.
He offered curbside pickup and free shipping to get books to people as they isolated themselves at home.
“We spent a fortune on postage during that time, which to me means that it worked,” he said.
Sarah Seals, lead stylist at Renaissance Consignment, noticed that many regular customers have started to return after over a year. But some of her usual shoppers still haven’t come back.
The store, located at 1118 State Street, relies on locals to bring clothes into the store. Ms. Seals has had plenty of clothing to choose from recently, which she chalks up to people organizing their closets while at home.
“It seems like things are normalizing,” she said. “Every weekend seems to be busier than the last.”
The store launched a new section called “Kealey’s Corner,” which holds designer kids clothes and dog accessories. Ms. Seals has noticed a lot of hair bows and dog toys selling.
Ms. Taylor also adapted to consumer requests recently.
Her made-to-order handcrafted hats take eight hours of labor across a couple of weeks, but some shoppers wanted to be able to purchase a hat quickly.
She ordered ready-to-wear palm hats that she can quickly customize, and she has sold many palm hats to tourists looking for an easy beach hat.
At Wendy Foster, at 1220 State St., customers have been looking to refresh their wardrobe with more formal outfits, according to sales associate Tiana Molony.
Earlier in the pandemic, the store sold a lot of loungewear, but now she’s noticed fancier — and larger — purchases.
“I feel like people, now that they’re out and about, they are likely more impulsive to buy things on the spot. Because we haven’t been shopping for so long,” she said.
Elizabeth Helton, sales manager at Wendy Foster, feels like going out on State Street is an occasion for people. They eat and stick around to windowshop.
When nearby restaurants are open, she notices more new customers.
Mr. Kelley said the same about the dining near him.
“Certainly the restaurants out on State Street have added a lot of life to this end of town,” he said.
The owners’ and workers’ opinions also mirrored each other on the topic of June 15, the date the tiered reopening system ends statewide.
They didn’t seem to have rigid plans in place, pending guidance from public health departments. But they hope the change increases business.