After an unpredictable year for local businesses, retail store owners are seeing clientele return to their shops now that Santa Barbara County has moved into the less restrictive tier of COVID-19 restrictions.
Since Santa Barbara County officially moved into the orange tier last Tuesday, retail businesses were allowed to reopen with significantly less restrictions.
According to State guidelines, retail storefronts can reopen without any capacity limits set by the California Department of Public Health, but owners are expected to enforce mask wearing and social distancing modifications. Though there is not a capacity requirement set by the state, a number of shops in the downtown area and in Paseo Nuevo have established their own limits to keep customers safe.
For Nancy Burgner, co-owner of Lovebird Boutique, the move into the orange tier is accelerating a comeback that began when the county moved into the red tier in mid-March.
After a “dismally slow” January and February, Ms. Burgner said the shift into the red tier was like someone “flipped a switch” and all of a sudden, customers began flooding back to the shop after spending most of the pandemic shopping online.
“What’s been interesting to see is that the people who are coming out now, particularly in this last month, are ready to shop,” Ms. Burgner told the News-Press. “They haven’t been shopping for a year plus and they’re ready for a whole new wardrobe refresh.”
After a year of stocking up on loungewear and living in sweatpants, Ms. Burgner said her clientele are cleaning out their closets and looking for fun and playful clothes for the summer months. While the spring cleaning is fueling sales at Lovebird, Ms. Burgner said she also sees it as a symbol of waving goodbye to the past.
“It’s almost like cleaning out the closet is the metaphor for 2020 being in the past,” Ms. Burgner said. “There’s just so much pent up need for real clothes. People have loads of loungewear and people are ready to put on real pants with a waistband and a belt.”
Other business owners in downtown Santa Barbara are also eyeing a steady return in sales driven by eased restrictions.
Citlali Guerrero, co-owner of Zitzilin Imports in Paseo Nuevo, said her business was very busy over the weekend as customers stopped into her store after dining in the downtown area.
After a period of lockdown in January and February, Ms. Guerrero said she started to see an increase in customer traffic when downtown restaurants could expand their capacity indoors in mid-March. Now with 50% capacity indoors allowed in restaurants, Ms. Guerrero is hopeful to service more customers in the months to come while maintaining a healthy distance.
“I’m hoping to see a lot of people, but I’d rather see healthy people than make more sales,” Ms. Guerrero told the News-Press. “I’d rather keep no expectations on the selling and invite everybody to keep on staying safe than coming out and buying.”
The start of the pandemic brought a period of struggle for Ms. Guerrero’s business, particularly as tourism decreased. Her shop, which is filled with bowls, vases, trinkets and other goods from Turkey, Mexico, Italy and India, often draws international visitors who are visiting on cruise ships. But with the pandemic barring travel, Ms. Guerrero noticed her sales were mainly coming from individuals in the states as opposed to internationally.
“In the beginning, we were struggling, because since we have a lot of people who come from Europe and Middle Eastern come on cruises here, we were like what are we going to do,” Ms. Guerrero said. “But suddenly, people from Sacramento, from San Francisco and from San Diego were coming here to eat and to drink. So we weren’t struggling anymore.”
With events and travel expected to reopen in the coming months, other local businesses are also eyeing the boost that will come from customers in search of the perfect event outfit.
Miss Behavin’, a boutique located in Paseo Nuevo, specializes in clothes that reflect the latest fashion trends, drawing high school and college students looking for the perfect outfit for social events.
Just months before the start of the pandemic, Kelly Scott, the store’s owner, moved into a new location in Paseo Nuevo after owning a storefront in Isla Vista for 13 years. Ms. Scott told the News-Press that she often sees an uptick in sales during music festival seasons, but in a year without music events, things were slower than usual.
Still, in an unprecedented year, Ms. Scott said she is thankful for the steady uptick in sales she’s seen since easing restrictions allowed her to reopen after lockdown in January and February. Looking to the future, she’s hopeful that increased tourism and the return of live events will spearhead increased sales and recovery.
“For the first time in all my 14 years like, I feel and hope that we’re going to have a good year or two because (tourists) are going to want to come visit Santa Barbara and I know my clientele is going to start to go to concerts,” Ms. Scott told the News-Press.