Santa Barbara County residents have had to wave goodbye to many of their favorite, decades-old small businesses over the course of the pandemic.
Some of the most sorrowful goodbyes included Plum Goods, Enterprise Fish Co., Beachside Bar-Cafe, Chuck’s Waterfront Grill, Dutch Garden and, in a few days, Mercury Lounge.
Although some restrictions were lifted for businesses upon the county’s transition into the red tier, many mom and pop shops are still struggling to stay afloat.
Kristen Miller, CEO of the South Coast Chamber of Commerce, said that the fact that many are still struggling isn’t all that shocking.
“The loss of so many local businesses and restaurants is devastating for our community,” she told the News-Press. “The pandemic and subsequent economic crisis has been going on for over a year and it isn’t surprising that some businesses can’t hang on much longer. The community has worked hard to support our local businesses, but there are forces out of our control.”
The CEO said the chamber is continuing to urge government officials to support a broader reopening with guidelines outlined in its Roadmap to Recovery, but until more customers feel comfortable going out and supporting small businesses, recovery is tough.
“Businesses need customers to survive. The lack of in-person customers is detrimental,” Ms. Miller said.
Outdoor dining has been the saving grace for restaurants, but she said that personal services continue to be hit hard, along with the hospitality industry which obviously struggles with travel restrictions.
In addition, she said, “The event planning industry — from corporate to wedding — continues to have little to no guidance on when small events can resume. Our partners at Visit Santa Barbara have been working diligently on creating guidelines for small group meetings and events, but there is no consensus on when these gatherings may be able to happen and this industry is struggling.”
In addition, she said the lack of business travel, small group meetings and people working in offices has led to a domino effect on industries such as caterers, florists, event planners and farmers.
It’s a little early to see how much President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan has helped these industries, Ms. Miller said, but the chamber is supportive of all economic relief and champions increased PPP funding. She said those funds have helped many businesses in Santa Barbara County.
That being said, Ms. Miller added, “Loans and grants cannot replace a steady flow of customers.”
Looking to the future, she said the process for receiving many grants has been difficult for businesses, so in the event of another relief package from the federal government, she’d like to see a streamlined system for awarding grant funds and more support for the event planning industry and personal services. Overall, Santa Barbara County’s businesses simply need their customers back.
“The South Coast is dependent on visitors and we need to welcome them back to visit safely,” Ms. Miller said. “The chamber operates two visitor centers in downtown Santa Barbara and our centers have become much more than just standard tourist information — they have become a hub for safety information, updates on changing regulations and a key force in letting visitors know what is open and how to visit safely.
“Our businesses want to be part of the solution and if they are allowed to operate safely they will help lead our economic recovery.”