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Weather, E-commerce and Cave Fire dent State Street holiday spending

Plum Goods Holiday Shopping
Kacey Drescher/KEYT Photo

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Retailers had six fewer days than last year to boost revenue this holiday season and many shop owners will tell you this is a critical time for their bottom line.

As online shopping continues to dominate trends, with wild holiday weather, how did Santa Barbara businesses do this year? Did Santa’s elves shop local or count on Prime?

While many associate Christmas shopping with hustle and bustle, some business owners say consumers now associate Santa Barbara with natural disasters. 

Like many small business owners, Amy Cooper depends on the month of December. Holiday shopping makes up over 25% of Plum Good’s business for the year.

“So it’s really the month that allows us to stay open the rest of the year. Without that month we can’t really hang on,” said Amy Cooper, Owner of Plum Goods. The boutique, specializing in ethically-made goods, is on the 900-block of State Street. 

A newly released Mastercard report shows that nationwide, total holiday sales grew 3.4% year-over-year.  

However, Cooper says she and many other Central and South Coast businesses didn’t get the boost they were hoping for.

“It was a really disappointing season because year-over-year over the past three years, we’ve seen sales go down by a big percentage each year and I’m not entirely sure why,” said Cooper. 

Plum Good’s sales were down by 15% this holiday season and Cooper says she saw a real decrease in foot traffic.

“I’ve never seen that before in the nine years I’ve been here where we would go on what should be a busy time of December and an hour would go by without a person walking by. So there was a real lack of just people on the streets,” said Cooper. 

The Executive Director of Downtown Santa Barbara, Carrie Kelly, says after consulting with quite a few shops it was a really mixed season and all the shopping weekends except one were consumed with rain.

Kelly says a Small Business Saturday Block Party even got rained out. “Rain is great for Santa Barbara, less so for retailers,” she adds. 

Officials also highlight the pop-up markets that we saw this year downtown.

“I’m not sure if they were driving shoppers to retailers or taking them away from them but from a customer perspective there were a lot of shopping options downtown this year,” said Kelly. 

“People don’t come out in the weather in California so much,” said Adele Hubbard, Owner of the Italian Pottery Outlet, just down the street from Cooper. 

While Adele Hubbard hasn’t tallied up how Italian Pottery Outlet fared this Christmas, she says their online presence keeps them busy with up to 50 to 60 orders a day.

“We are shipping out every single day, sometimes 50 to 60 orders a day, and they come in continually. So we have our own site, we’re also wholesalers, so we sell to other stores and of course, we have an Amazon store because you have to these days,” said Hubbard. 

That same Mastercard report showed an 18.8% increase in online sales this holiday season.

As Brick and Mortar shops like Plum Goods try to compete with the likes of Amazon, Cooper says business also dropped off after the Cave Fire.

“It’s scary. You have to really think, is this going to work going forward? With just the way shopping trends are changing and the way that we’re having these natural disasters at the one time of year when we’re so dependent on sales,” said Cooper. 

The Cave Fire also impacted area hotel sales. 

A local General Manager who declined an on-camera interview tells us market-wide, they saw massive cancellations after the Cave Fire. 

He says due to the Cave Fire and subsequent mudslide concerns after the blaze, typical business travel didn’t even pick up. 

“The fire absolutely had an effect on tourist travel and this is unfortunate because the first responders did such a good job at containment and mitigating effects in the downtown,” said Kelly. 

Kelly says in 2020, Downtown Santa Barbara will be producing many events that will bring people downtown. She points to a number of new businesses that will be opening. 

Community / Economy / Lifestyle / Weather News

Kacey Drescher