SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Even though some economic indicators look shockingly dismal to start the new year, there's optimism coming to the surface.
Many businesses are facing challenges across the Central Coast due to the coronavirus setback but the resilience has been coming through.
Timelines are uncertain but with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, there is an expected slow down of the virus spread and the future drop in hospitalizations.
That will allow the slow reopening of businesses that are closed and changes in the restaurant dining options beginning with the return of outside dining, followed by limited inside dining. Those changes will take place only after the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity in Southern California is above 15% as it was before last November.
The Governor's limited stay-at-home order, and the restrictions we are seeing now, began in December.
Santa Barbara Economic Development Manager, Jason Harris says there will be many forms of financial assistance to keep as many businesses as possible from closing and help employees with adequate unemployment.
He is expecting a solid comeback, once the health crisis is resolved.
"When we are in that place which I am very hopeful will be this spring or if not summer at the latest, we shall see that resurgence. We saw it last summer when we came out of the stay at home, we need to support businesses to get to that point," said Harris.
The economic set backs will be costly, but government help may soften the pain. It's expected that relief is coming, but not guaranteed in the amounts necessary to make up for the 2020 and 2021 losses.
Harris says, "as businesses go on the decline and have to shutter so has the city had to close various operations and do belt tightening, so it is a difficult balance."
In downtown Santa Barbara, the State Street Promenade has just received some beautification in the form of newly planted succulents. The future plans include more signage for pedestrians and bike riders, along with lighting changes.
Funding for the project is being paid for through the Measure C tax, approved by voters, which is designated for work on streets, sidewalks, a new police station and other improvements such as what is happening in the promenade.
The Promenade marketplace is returning Thursday. It allows small vendors to use street space for their pop up sales. It takes place Thursday's from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The marketplace began in the fall of 2020. Vendors included those making hand crafted items such as jewelry, masks and soaps.
The promenade was part of the city's emergency response to the pandemic and economic slowdown. Harris says, the timeline is set to expire in March, but it will likely be approved to extend to September before there's another review. "So we are going to continue for another six months just to do what we can to support businesses reopening," he said.
The city has given up space in the streets and on the sidewalks for outside dining and shopping experiences without a lot of red tape and fees. Designs had to meet some basic guidelines and also leave room for emergency vehicles.
Plans to help businesses through the pandemic, at times, seem to be micro-focused on downtown.
Harris says he is looking at all areas where improvements can be made and assistance can be offered. "Our business corridors throughout the city, be it De la Vina , Milpas , the Mesa (and Westside) to make sure they are all available to the resources out there."
The downtown still has the weekly Tuesday Certified Farmers' Market which stimulates foot traffic on State Street. There's also markets on Friday along Coast Village Road and Saturday in the Cota Street lot.
Retails stores remain open at 20 percent capacity.
The La Cumbre area is seeing changes with Wing Stop coming in as a new restaurant in the strip of stores near Bristol Farms which opened last year.
The Game Store located in the La Cumbre Mall is closing. Closeout deals are on signs held by workers along State Street nearby.
Jeannine's restaurant downtown on Figueroa is now closed, but the other two in Santa Barbara and one in Goleta remain open.
Chocolats du CaliBressan has closed in downtown Santa Barbara in the La Arcada Court but remains open in Carpinteria where the chocolates are created.
What's still to be determined is the strength of the work force in downtown after the COVID crisis.
With a large number of at-home workers now, it is unclear what percentage will be returning to the their old offices, many that have been unused in months.
That workforce vibrancy had been a component to the economic strength in many sectors of the Central Coast, especially downtown zones.
The City of Santa Barbara is also looking forward to the come back of tourism, and in one area, airline travel, it welcomes Southwest Airlines. That carrier will be announcing its destinations and flight schedule soon with a launch later this year.
The draw of Southwest and its passengers is expected to be a big boost to the Goleta, Santa Barbara and Carpinteria hospitality industry.