Businesses see an increase in foot traffic
Foot traffic on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara increased throughout March’s weekends, and business along the promenade is increasing.
Sunday, the sidewalks were crowded as tourists and locals peered through windows and browsed the racks. People posed in crosswalks dressed in their Sunday’s best while friends leaned back to capture the shot.
It’s a welcome change, one that gives businesses hope for the future.
State Street business owners previously told the News-Press that they felt a change President’s Day weekend and were starting to see pre-pandemic levels of business.
Nationwide, the amount Americans spent on goods in February 2021 was 10% higher than February 2020, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. But clothing and footwear sales were down 3% compared to February 2020.
The data also showed a 5% decrease in sales in the service industry, with food services and accommodations taking a 19% hit.
One State Street business, Creamistry at 935 State St. changed ownership Feb. 28, 2020.
David Lee and his wife purchased the ice cream shop from its old owners, excited for the investment. When the pandemic hit weeks later, they lowered their expectations.
Their plans to move into town were tabled for a bit, so they commute everyday from Thousand Oaks.
“Somehow we survived so far, and we’re looking forward,” Mr. Lee said.
He and his wife recently hired new employees after seeing business increase and the weather heat up.
“I’m really looking at the stats and from the previous owner and it’s not quite there yet, but it’s definitely picking up compared to last year,” he said.
He already has a large investment in the store, so he decided to keep the indoor dining area closed even in the red tier. The frequent sanitization and extra staffing were going to be expensive.
Even without indoor seating, a steady flow of customers grabbed scoops. The line was also long at McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams down the street.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis noticed increases in consumer spending directly linked to stimulus checks paid by the federal government.
When the CRRSA Act deposited $600 in accounts in January, consumer spending on goods went up almost 8.5%.
The third economic impact payment was distributed mid-March, potentially boosting consumer spending.
Pickles & Swiss, at 811 State St., had a long rush of customers Sunday afternoon, said manager Mac Brady.
Business slowed down at the start of the pandemic but when people began venturing out, he received more orders.
When Santa Barbara stepped back in the purple tier around the holidays, he was less busy but not drastically. Both red and purple tiers require frequent sanitization from him and his staff, but the inside dining area is closed in both.
“There wasn’t a huge change, but we definitely see more foot traffic (in the red tier),” Mr. Brady said.
Even more impactful is spring break. It’s contributed significantly to the line of orders outside Pickles & Swiss.
Spring breakers are also spending at retail locations, like Brandy Melville at 939 State St. Ashlyn Gardner, who opens and closes the store, described business as “extremely busy.”
“I feel like it’s been so much busier now. The restaurants are opening back, so I think that’s why we’re busy now,” she said.
Customers left when dressing rooms were closed as well, even after waiting in a line to get in.
Now in the red tier, Brandy Melville has more than doubled its capacity from 11 to 28 people, eliminating the pesky line. It also has opened dressing rooms.
It’s more work for employees, who sanitize dressing rooms after each use and wipe down the store’s surfaces hourly.
Throughout the pandemic, employees also track items returned by customers. When a piece of clothing is exchanged or returned, it sits in the back for a week.
“It’s a lot more work for us, but I feel like it’s better for the community to get back to what we used to do,” Skye Smith, a sales associate, said.
She usually works as a sales associate in the Thousand Oaks location but drove to Santa Barbara to assist.
The store recently hired somewhere between five to 10 new employees to keep up with demand.
Ms. Smith and Ms. Gardner noticed a lot of tourists from other California cities shopping. Sometimes, they have to correct tourists who don’t want to wear masks.
Somewhere between a half and two-thirds of pedestrians on State Street wore masks Sunday, some flinging off face coverings for selfies or to grab a bite.
Artists set up beside the street, strumming a guitar or bending balloons into animals and hats.
The weekend Makers and Wares Market in Paseo Nuevo had many local vendors, the number of which seem to be growing weekly.