Complete with a deejay, red carpet, and security staff in black suits flanking the crowd, the H&M opening on State Street looked more like the line for an exclusive night club, only with more preteens, employees on break, and moms with strollers in tow. H&M staff cheer and bob to music by the store front. Caterers in jaunty hats serve mini-sandwiches and drinks to people in line. A passerby — breaking from a group of bewildered older men clustered for solidarity — stops to ask me, "Is Britney Spears here or something?"
Over 400 people lined up for the grand opening on State Street, some as early as 5 a.m. Alex Hood was among the first 250 shoppers to take advantage of free swag — an organic tote bag, T-shirt, and gift cards ranging from $10 to $300 in value.
For many shoppers waiting in line Thursday morning, the coming of the trendy Swedish retailer to Santa Barbara has been long anticipated. H&M fashion, which has been spotted on everyone from Mary-Kate Olsen to Michelle Obama, emphasizes its high fashion selection for an affordable price. "You see their stuff in Vogue and other magazines," said Hood, a former H&M employee. "They have quality clothes for a budget price."
According to company spokesperson Jennifer Ward, H&M's move into the location, which used to be a Barnes & Noble bookstore, has been five years in the making. "Once we were able to come into this particular location, that's when we jumped on it," Ward said. "We're just here to complement the traffic in the area. Having H&M is going to be really great for all the businesses here."
Despite its warm reception, many residents are anxious about the appearance of major retailers onto State Street. "To be honest with you, I'd rather see something smaller here," said SBCC student Alexandra Shaner, who drives down to Ventura every couple months just to shop at stores like H&M. "Especially with the economy, we've seen a lot of large companies come in and just take over."
S.B. resident Michael Merenda had never even heard of H&M, but spotted a friend at the opening and stopped to score some coupons. "The locals are missing the bookstores, and the music — we had great musicians at Borders all the time," Merenda said. "One of my friends described it as Disneyland meets Madison Avenue."