Ever since the Thomas Fire cast a pall over the 2017 holiday season for downtown shop owners, they’ve been working hard to build back up and pay off their emergency federal loans, many supported by loyal and new customers, aware of the fire’s disastrous effects. Not all of them made it, but others reported a good start to December.
Black Friday 2019 was the best in years, Paseo Nuevo’s marketing director Mary Lynn Harms-Romo reported, despite a rainy afternoon. “Many retailers reported meeting or exceeding their sales goals for the day,” she said, with large crowds hitting American Eagle’s storewide 40 percent discount and the Nordstrom shoe sale. Among the events to look forward to this December, she said, is the disco party on Thursday at nightfall, complete with ugly sweater contest and snow.
At Folio Press & Paperie, Marlene Bucy, who owns the small stationers with her husband, Frank Bucy, said that the Cave Fire had brought it all back. “What we went through gave me such a greater sensitivity to other disasters, like hurricanes in other parts of the country,” she said. “Just imagine what people go through in disasters like that.” Sevilla Square, the block at Gutierrez and State that Folio shares with D’Angelo’s, Chocolate Maya, and a number of other shops, had twice as many people visiting during Small Business Saturday as the year before, she said. With their store full of cards and gifts, “We’ll see what this December holds,” Bucy said. “It’s looking good so far!”
Michael Graham agreed. “Business-wise we’re starting to feel that we’ve rounded the corner,” he said of C’est Cheese, a shop and catering company he runs with his wife, Kathryn Graham. Post-Thomas, hosts canceled parties and catering contracts as what was at the time the largest fire in the state’s history burned across the Santa Ynez Mountains from Santa Paula. C’est Cheese had to close its fledgling restaurant, but it recently opened a housewares niche. “Sales have started growing again, and daily operations are much more stable, which is great,” said Graham.
At Dune, which many still call the French Press, Julia Mayer, co-owner with husband Todd Stewart, said this year’s special holiday coffee was naturally processed and from Elida Farm in Panama. But what she held to her heart during the holidays were the junior high kids she now saw coming back from college, and “former customers who have moved away but are back to visit. [It’s] ‘the stuff’ that being a business owner in your hometown is all about.”