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As H&M Readies to Open June 23, Neighboring Santa Barbara Stores Are Hopeful but Wary

Retail revival will be good for business but some stores lament changing complexion of State Street environment

National retailer H&M will open the doors to its new downtown Santa Barbara store on June 23, a development that could signal a rebound for the local retail sector.

H&M, short for Hennes & Mauritz, will replace Barnes & Noble at 833 State St. The store offers fashion-forward apparel for women, men and children.

“It’s definitely a good fit for State Street and it will bring a lot of business, especially college kids,” said Brittney Mccahill, a sales associate at American Apparel, 1019 State St.

“I’m from San Francisco and H&M is one of the most popular stores that competes mainly with Forever 21. If you want something to wear once, go to Forever. But if you want material that last longer, H&M is better.”

Many high-end retailers in Santa Barbara have been replaced by midlevel and lower-priced stores, and the retail sector is starting a gradual rebound, according to Mike Martz, a partner with Hayes Commercial Group.

“There are four vacancies on State Street; Borders, Barnes & Noble, Taj Café and Blue Bee all (closed) so suddenly,” he said. “It will be a positive trend as summer rolls around and will bring more traffic and vibrancy to State Street.”

H&M was founded by Erling Persson in Västerås, Sweden, in 1947, and has expanded to 40 countries and 87,000 employees.

The stores’ internationally influenced trend clothing and quality basic everyday wear will resonate well with college students, said Nick Sakai, co-founder of CRSVR, a sneaker boutique at 632 State St.

“It’s going to be a zoo,” Sakai said. “It’s made for this town. It’s high fashion at a good price, and it will nail college and high school ... There will be more spending and it will be a good stimulus for State Street.”

But H&M’s arrival also represents the “corporatization” of State Street, Sakai said.

“I always fight for small business and local stores,” he said. “We built this store with our own hands. But, look, over the last 10 years, everything has become more corporate on State Street.”

The addition of corporate stores takes away from the small-town allure of Santa Barbara, said Filiz Puran, manager of Dear Diary, a clothing store at 913 State St.

“It’s a good idea for State Street but little mom-and-pop stores are much better to have because, when there are tourists who see big-box stores and small businesses close, it takes away from the unique character of State Street,” she said. “It’s like a big city.”

But Martz said there is a good balance between chain stores and local small businesses. Savvy on Pearl, a Boulder, Colo.-based retailer, will move into Blue Bee’s former State Street location Aug 1, he said.

“It’s not all chain stores, but it’s a good balance between those and the small mom-and-pops, and that’s key,” he said. “If (the economy) can keep steadily improving, I think most of the vacancies will be filled by the end of the year.”

But Sakai says national retailers like H&M take away from small businesses.

“Although we don’t share their exact product, I think it will still hurt small businesses nearby,” he said.

Puran is not worried that Dear Diary will lose customers because her store concentrates on customers and their experience rather than the bottom line, she said.

“It doesn’t matter what you sell or at what price, it’s all in the customer service and giving people personalized attention and what they want,” Puran said. “Large corporations don’t always care about the customer, but I know our style and customers and what they want.”

A manager at Urban Outfitters, 624 State St., said H&M will have a similar effect to Forever 21’s arrival, which took a little of its business, she said.

Forever 21 moved into Anthropologie’s former space at 901 State St. last year; Marshalls will move into Borders’ previous space, across the street at 900 State St.; and REI is slated to hit Lower State Street this fall.

“It will bring more foot traffic to the area,” Sakai said. “Stores worry about who carries certain brands and who moves in next door, but it’s more about the triumphs and failures we have been through and how we adapt to increased traffic.”

As part of its opening festivities June 23, H&M will offer the first 250 shoppers in line an H&M T-shirt and an Access to Fashion Pass, valued from $10 to $300.

Popular women’s items include basic tanks for $4.95, dresses starting at $12.95, and skirts starting at $12.95. Men can choose from shirts starting at $9.95, basic T-shirts for $5.95 and pants starting at $19.95.

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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