Although a bit crisp, the weather on Monday afternoon, December 22, was sunny and pleasant in Santa Barbara, making it easy for the holiday shopping crowd to navigate between sales. This year’s economic woes have been cause for concern for many area retailers, and, consistent with national trends, prices have been slashed on a plethora of potential gift items in the days leading up to Christmas. While the crowds aren’t as thick as they normally seem to be this close to the biggest gift-giving holiday of the year, area retailers are hoping for steady sales from choosier shoppers. “All indications are positive,” said Mark Linehan, president of the Camino Real Marketplace shopping center in Goleta. “Given the economic issues facing national and international economies, there are a lot of people out at Costco looking for a bargain.” He added that, personally, he’s looking for practical gifts for his family this year.
Linehan pointed out that not many of the stores in the Marketplace had resorted to the deep discounting seen in other areas. Many shops in downtown Santa Barbara had items reduced in price anywhere from 30 to 80 percent. According to the Downtown Organization-a Santa Barbara-focused business advocacy group-this is a phenomenon not often seen until after Christmas, although it is occurring nationwide now. “We’ve noticed that a lot of businesses are offering sales before season,” said Mary Lynn Harms, the Downtown Organization’s marketing director, stating her belief that the abundance of sales now will not lead to a dearth of bargain hunters after Christmas. “Personally, I think that there will be those diehard shoppers who will still get out to the after-Christmas sales.”
Unsure about whether or not such profound holiday sales are customary in the U.S., Patrick Brouchard-visiting from France with his wife for two weeks-expressed his pleasure at the greatly increased leverage of his euro. “It is so good for us to shop here because the dollar is so low,” he said. “We’re surprised that there were a lot of discounts. It’s good news.” Area resident Cyndee Howard, wending her way through the throngs at Paseo Nuevo, said State Street “doesn’t seem to have that frantic energy that it’s had in years past.”
Concurrent with a bleak global economic outlook, news in recent months has included many reports of area businesses closing, but Harms said that the closures were countered by a nearly equal number of businesses opening. She said that other than the Apple Store and the new Verizon Store-which are scheduled to open on State Street early next year-many of the new businesses are locally owned.
Not far from the crowded parking lots at the Marketplace and La Cumbre Plaza, and the bustle of foot traffic on State Street, the number of small shops dotting Milpas Street did not show as much activity on Monday afternoon. Stores selling everything from Western wear to soccer memorabilia to hardware seemed to be empty. The Salvation Army store on the corner of Milpas and Ortega, however, was filled with customers. “There’s not as much stuff in here as there has been-people have been shopping,” said customer Kathy LeSage, a Westmont College teacher. Her situation is different from most people this holiday season, though, as she and her family lost their home, which was on Westmont Road, and most of their belongings in the Tea Fire. She was spending a $300 voucher from the Salvation Army, donated to her as a victim of the fire. “Usually, Christmas is about giving and I’m on the receiving end now,” she said. “I’m very humbled by the outpouring of generosity.”
Harms said that because of the significant price reductions, many people are taking care of personal shopping in addition to their holiday gift purchases. Another noteworthy facet of this year’s holiday commercial season has been need versus want. A market analysis conducted by the NPD Group reported that 61 percent of the consumers they surveyed nationwide will this year favor practicality over purposeless yearning when deciding what gifts to buy for people.
Like so many others, LeSage looked at her personal misfortune and this year’s economic squeeze as an opportunity to move away from the commercial aspects of Christmas to dwell on the familial and spiritual ones. “I don’t think it’ll detract from the day, but maybe from the buildup,” she said. “Maybe that’s a good thing.”