As Santa Barbara County eases restrictions on restaurants and retail stores, one question proves to be crucial in the race to reopen: Will the customers return? It’s especially important in the small town of Carpinteria, where local businesses are working hard to stay afloat amid the ongoing pandemic.
Rick Mancilla owns The Worker Bee Café in Carpinteria along with his son, also named Rick. The duo, along with the rest of the staff, provided takeout and delivery service for the three-month period that dine-in service wasn’t an option. Since reopening for in-person dining, they saw an immediate demand from customers eager to return to the bustling brunch spot. “It’s definitely not what we’re used to seeing this time of year in Carpinteria, but it has significantly bounced back from when we were just doing takeout,” Mancilla said.
Worker Bee is down by 50 percent in dining capacity because of social-distancing guidelines, and the size of the staff has shifted down, too. “Employees were eager [to return], but we also have a skeleton crew, mind you. We don’t have everybody in here because it just doesn’t justify it,” Mancilla explained.
Other local eateries have not enjoyed the same success. In early May, Crushcakes & Café permanently closed the doors of its Carpinteria location after 10 years of business. After experiencing a loss in sales due to the pandemic, owner Shannon M. Gaston was unable to work out a deal with her landlords, according to media reports. Crushcakes’ two other locations in downtown Santa Barbara and Goleta remain open every day of the week with limited hours.
Retail stores in Carpinteria also face a unique set of challenges, pandemic or not. Tivadar Horvath is the owner of Carp Sports, a sporting-goods store that he has run as a one-man band for 11 years. When the coronavirus came around, the store stayed open as an essential business because it offers bike servicing and repairs, which is part of the essential service of transportation.
“As a small retail business, it’s not easy; I’ll be blunt,” said Horvath. “It’s pretty hard, so you have to improvise and adjust to the situation because the internet is a big competitor.” But Horvath believes there’s one thing that will continue to separate stores like his from online buying: the ability to see exactly what you’re getting. “People go there because they can touch and feel the product and buy,” he said.
Carpinteria’s size makes it tougher for businesses to thrive in difficult circumstances compared to a neighbor like Santa Barbara, but customers’ response so far is encouraging for business owners looking ahead to the summer months. “It seems like people have just been kind of eager to get things going again and get back to normalcy,” Mancilla said.
Customers are grateful, too. “What I’ve noticed is … people seem to be really thankful that they can walk into the store, and they thank me for being there,” Horvath said. “I’ve heard that phrase a lot more lately within the last couple of months, more than ever before.”
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