The 900 block of State Street has eight vacant stores, including Plum Goods and Forever 21.
Eight stores in the 900 block of State Street, including Plum Goods and Forever 21, are vacant due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Josh Molina / Noozhawk photo)

In a haunting 37-second video, Amy Cooper said goodbye to her dream of owning a retail store in Santa Barbara.

Cooper, the longtime owner of Plum Goods on State Street, has removed all of the eco-chic, sustainable clothing and merchandise and permanently closed the store that she has owned since 2010. Her video starts with a close-up still of a door and pans out, ending with a close-up of her Plum Goods sign facing State Street. The store is empty.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Cooper told Noozhawk. “I feel like I am letting down the community. I am giving up what I cared most about with this store, which is connecting with people.”

She’s one of the growing number of business casualties on State Street and in the region from the economic pandemic. Cooper’s business was at 909 State St., which has become somewhat of a ground zero for the impacts. In addition to Plum Goods, the large Forever 21 has placed much of its merchandise in black plastic bags, scattered about the store, leaving two more vacant stores, a situation that likely won’t change soon even after the economic shutdown is lifted. 

In total, there are eight empty stores in the 900 block of State Street. 

“This is going on now,” Cooper said. “Just imagine what our downtown will look like in three to six months.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced a plan to let retail businesses open to offer curbside pickup beginning Friday. For many businesses, however, including Cooper’s, curbside isn’t enough to survive. 

Forever 21 has all of its merchandise stuffed in black plastic bags.

All of Forever 21’s merchandise is stuffed into black plastic bags. (Josh Molina / Noozhawk photo)

“How lucky we were to have had the chance to connect with so many of you and be let into the parts of your lives that mattered most to you,” Cooper wrote, in an instagram post. “We are grieving and taking a moment to come to terms with everything.”

Ray Mahboob, who owns several buildings on State Street, is trying to remain optimistic, despite the exodus. 

“I am sad to see Plum Goods pack up and leave,” Mahboob said. “Amy Cooper was considered an awesome local retailer with a great following.”

He said he expects the city will work with the private sector to attempt to fill the spots.

“It will take visionary thinking to fill up the spaces,” Mahboob said. “We need to try to attract locals and tourists alike but at the same time bring in the tax revenues the city desperately needs.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses were struggling in Santa Barbra because of the decline in retail and boom in online shopping.

“We’re not quite sure how much of this is directly COVID-related, but the fact is we’re losing two very popular retail stores,” said Bob Stout, president of the Downtown Association. “Plumb Goods has been my go-to for holiday shopping. Amy is as sharp and creative as any retailer I’ve ever known so I hope we see her magic reappear soon enough somewhere in Santa Barbara.”

Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said Cooper has been a champion of the downtown and that her store is so quintessentially “Santa Barbara.”

“This news is difficult, but it strengthens my resolve to use this moment to envision a new future for downtown,” Harmon said. “More challenges certainly are ahead, but we haven’t had an opportunity like this, certainly not in my lifetime, to commit to building something sustainable and truly visionary for our downtown. I will not, and our city will not, let this chance for downtown renewal pass us by.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.