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Retail recovery will likely take the rest of the year, experts say

Downtown Santa Barbara Shopping
A retail recovery after the coronavirus is underway.
Downtown Santa Barbara Shopping
A retail recovery after the coronavirus is expected starting this summer.
Downtown Santa Barbara Shopping
A retail recovery is expected this summer as the coronavirus impacts weaken.
Downtown Santa Barbara shopping
A retail recovery is expected this summer as the coronavirus impacts weaken.
Downtown Santa Barbara
A retail recovery is expected this summer as the coronavirus impacts weaken.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Retailers are hoping their summer business will be a shot in the arm for financial success after more than a year of pain from the coronavirus.

Santa Barbara County is expected to move into the least restrictive 'Yellow Tier' next week, joining many other California counties, with lighter cases of the virus and more residents getting vaccinated.

All this, plus the reopening of California June 15, should give business owners what they need to gain some traction again in retail and other sectors where consumer confidence is key.

Restaurants have enjoyed options including new outdoor dining spaces, or parklets. Retailers have not used the same game plan.

It's still to be seen if the pandemic has changed the consumers' shopping habits or what will fully restore in-person shopping. Prior to the pandemic Santa Barbara's downtown was struggling with ways to bring shoppers back into an area that was evolving and showing many vacancies.

Local economists say contrary to beliefs about internet shopping taking over, the retail industry is still strong and important to shoppers and local tax calculations.

The recovery is not going to have a clear trajectory with some businesses still slowly coming off the sidelines and using federal aid. Their former employees still on unemployment are also rethinking when to return to the workplace.

Vaccination rates are increasing, case loads are sinking and the retail industry is anxious to see summer crowds returning.

Urban Flea Market Owner Sara Gehris said, "Memorial Day weekend was really busy,  so  busy. We couldn't keep up with it just so much traffic."

There were many fresh faces coming through her doors.
"I have people that say they haven't been out in a year and they just love it and they said it's so much fun to shop and be with other people."

While Memorial Day weekend was strong it is still to be seen if the Summer months will have the same energy, and if the consumer confidence will come back at the same rate.

Out of school for this year, one student said she and friends came right down.

Siena Jensen said, "we went shopping to a few stores and we got some Boba and Oatberry and we ate and we walked around.  That was fun!"

Florida visitors said a canceled cruise trip wasn't stopping their California coastal visit.   They started in San Diego and are spending a few days in Ventura and Santa Barbara.

"Definitely we are trying to stimulate the economy, " said Tammie Kane.

The mid week was quieter and for some but it felt just right.  "We've been lucky everywhere.  We got to do  whatever we wanted to do so far," she said.

Marla Spellman was taking pictures of the downtown historic architecture and said, "it's wonderful to have the town to myself.  No crowds.  It's beautiful.  It's gorgeous.  You're not fighting anybody to go to a  restaurant."

Most people felt the economy would have a solid return,  and local businesses will continue to see local support.

"We're a business that supports small business within this business because we have over 25 dealers in this store so they are happy to support those businesses," said Gehris.

Part of the driving factors could also be an updated welcoming environment. In some cases, special sales, entertainment, and a remodeled look is all that it takes to create a buzz in a shopping mall, or a certain day part, such as the night scene.

Tuesday's downtown, Santa Barbara has a thriving Farmers' Market with foot traffic over several blocks of sellers. That encourages the public to do more than just shop at the market, but also go into the stores and restaurants.

Santa Barbara's Funk Zone is also seeing a return of foot traffic with weekenders stopping in from out of town and enjoying the wine and beer tastings, unique shopping, and proximity to Stearns Wharf and the waterfront.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT NewsChannel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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