“It’s been a whirlwind,” said the lovely blond go-getter, her accent every bit as appealing as her store, which looks like a Dickens dream come true this month.
The shop at 1100 State St., on the corner of State and Figueroa streets, is chock-full of British-themed Christmas trees and decorations, figgy puddings, Christmas crackers filled with silly hats and toys, mince pies and Christmas cakes. Nostalgic toys and gifts line the walls of her new and even more prime location — still in La Arcada — at 1110 State St.
Before Torin opened Hampstead Village, there hadn’t been a British import store in town for at least 15 years. She saw the gap in the market but, as she explains, she was busy raising her children: Jessica, now 28 and living in Los Angeles; Natalie, now 26 and living in New York; and Alex, a 16-year-old Santa Barbara High student who helps his mom out at the store.
“I have more time on my hands now,” said Torin, who ran a California wine importing business in London for many years.
About two years ago Torin began getting serious about opening a retail store herself. She took the Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV) Self-Employment Training (SET) course to refresh her skills, and gain the knowledge and network needed to transform her dream into reality. She also took some computer courses at SBCC.
“I graduated WEV in May 2010 and in June I was in Dublin, Edinburgh, London, Bath, Manchester — all over the place finding the things I wanted to bring in,” said Torin, who traveled the world as an airline flight attendant at age 22.
She signed the lease in September 2010 and opened Hampstead Village on Dec. 1 last year. Not one to rest, after almost a year in business Torin moved the store to the more accessible State Street location just days before Black Friday shoppers descended.
“It’s been a whirlwind of a year and a half really, but it’s been a lot of fun and I get to meet the most wonderful people every day,” Torin said. “I thoroughly enjoy what I do.”
Her delight in her work is evident as she warmly greets a steady stream of customers.
“I thought I knew a lot of Brits in town and I’ve met the most wonderful people,” she said. “There are the Brits who come in and buy their regular foods that they love. There are people who I’ve met who were GI brides in World War II who have settled in America. Some of them have never been back to London, but they still remember it. These ladies are often in their 80s and 90s and they love to come in because it’s like walking back in history for them, especially at Christmas with all of the special food.
“I love to get them talking and hear all of their stories.”
That special food includes a big variety of teas, curries, sauces, jams, haggis, biscuits and sweets that aren’t available anywhere else in Santa Barbara. These are exotic delicacies to some, but to others they are essential grocery items.
One regular customer is a gentleman who came in exclaiming, “my bangers are in the oven and I’ve run out of HP sauce and need it immediately.” Apparently this means he’s cooking sausages and ran out of brown sauce, explained Torin.
“We have a lot of people like that who know we have British food and know exactly what they are looking for,” she said.
Asked if being around so many British goods makes her more or less homesick, Torin says she’s almost always homesick to see her mom, who is unable to travel these days. She is planning another visit to London after the holiday season, and she also has dear friends abroad who keep her posted on the latest hot items and make suggestions for new things she should offer at Hampstead Village.
The store also has a lot of Canadian customers.
“Some of the Canadian things are similar and some of them are not so similar, so we can rack our brains sometimes over what it is that they are looking for,” laughed Torin.
But many customers are locals who are buying for themselves or a friend who is British, and they need help on what they should buy.
“We put together gift baskets,” she noted. “... We can help direct people to something that perhaps they haven’t thought of or just remind them of something from their childhood they had forgotten about and get excited about when they see it again. It’s a lot of fun.”
The higher-end gifts are also abundant, like Galway Irish Crystal, Emma Bridgewater pottery, perfumes from Penhaligon’s of London and gentlemen’s cologne from Taylor of Old Bond Street toiletries, which was James Bond’s go-to scent. Also available are coffee table books on everything from The Beatles to the British royals, travel, cookery and more.
And of course, a great selection of unusual teapots and accessories.
“My store is all about cozy, it’s all about nostalgia and it’s all about comforts — old-fashioned good comforts,” Torin said. “My target market is quite wide really. Because I’ve got gifts here, I’ve got things here for baby age all the way through to ladies in their 90s who come and chat and enjoy buying some food and biscuits and teas.
“What I really specialize in is things that are not readily available anywhere else in Santa Barbara ... all different and hopefully very nostalgic and fun,” said Torin. “People enjoy walking in here and looking around.”
Although she’s obviously very busy with the new shop, Torin still finds time to continue to serve as board president of the Breast Cancer Resource Center, as she has for the past five years. She is also a board member of the Anti-Defamation League.
In her spare time she also rescues standard poodles.
“The larger dogs always need help,” said Torin, who has three dogs at home at the moment. “They come to me in a difficult state and I have the pleasure of seeing them get back to normal and just enjoy being a dog again. Then, of course, I keep them until it’s time for them to leave this earth.
“Yes I am busy,” she laughed, beaming with pleasure as the store bustles around her. “But I have a good and full life and I enjoy it to the maximum.”
Click here for more information on Hampstead Village, or call 805.845.3343. Connect with Hampstead Village on Facebook.