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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 3:29 pm | A Few Clouds 67º


This Little Piggy Wears Cotton Reportedly Closing All Stores

Representatives say the retailer, a Santa Barbara mainstay for more than 20 years, will sell its leftover merchandise online

It’s nearing the holiday season, and typically product is selling, foot traffic is increasing and retail store managers are pleased. But for some stores, such as This Little Piggy Wears Cotton, the shelves are clearing for entirely different reasons.

A sign on the door at This Little Piggy Wears Cotton in Santa Barbara alerts customers to the store's closing.
A sign on the door at This Little Piggy Wears Cotton in Santa Barbara alerts customers to the store’s closing. (Alex Kacik / Noozhawk photo)

The store, which caters to infants and children with high-quality clothes, books and toys, has been in Santa Barbara for more than two decades. This Little Piggy recently shut down its downtown location after moving from Paseo Nuevo in June, but it’s now forced to close all of its locations.

A clerk from Montecito’s Upper Village store and a representative from LittlePiggy.com both said all of the company’s stores are closing and the leftover merchandise would be sold online, although corporate authorities couldn’t be reached for confirmation.

An e-mail announcement sent to longtime customers read: “Piggy is closing the doors to the pig pen, but before we do it’s sale time! Thirty percent off everything in the store and 50 percent off all furniture and fixtures starting Tuesday, Nov. 9! This Little Piggy cried ... wah, wah, wah, wah ... .”

The retail sector has been one of the hardest hit markets in Santa Barbara County, economist Mark Schniepp said at an economic forecast in September.

“Retail spending by consumers has not picked up this year,” Schniepp’s executive report read. “The lethargic labor market has produced greater caution by households to ramp up much-needed spending in the local retail market. Vacancy rates are at their highest levels,” although lease rates have fallen to “their lowest level in the City of Santa Barbara.” Yet, retail space remains well utilized throughout the South Coast compared with other areas of California, the report said.

While some industry representatives are hopeful that spending will increase as the holidays near, they’re also wary.

Noozhawk spoke with several managers of clothing retail shops throughout Paseo Nuevo, but only two agreed to go on the record if provided anonymity. One was the store manager at a small boutique and the other a manager for a corporate company.

“I want to be optimistic and want to say the chances are high that we will hit last year’s numbers, but judging from what I’ve been seeing, I would probably give us a 50-50 shot,” the boutique store manager said. “We’re halfway through November, and we’re not even close to half of the sales.”

During slow days, the manager surveys bigger stores such as Juicy Coutoure and Banana Republic to see if they also have minimal traffic.

“Everywhere I go it seems to be virtually the same; all I see is the two or three employees who are working and maybe one unengaged customer,” the boutique store manager said. “They say the same thing, business is slow, September and October are the worst months, but now it’s November and it’s still bad. Holidays are coming up, so you thought there would be an influx of people coming in, but it’s the same — our weekdays are really bad and our weekends are all right.”

The corporate manager said her store is selling about half of what it did last year.

“The business has been slow for two years, I’ve been working for this company for seven years so I can tell,” she said. “We used to make $10,000 on Saturdays, but now we barely make $4,000.”

Statistics provided by the Workforce Investment Board of Santa Barbara County show there was a 1.1 percent decrease in retail sales from September 2009 to September 2010. The two sectors that experienced the largest decreases are state government excluding education at minus 14.3 percent and management of companies and enterprises at minus 11.1 percent. The county also boasts a 9 percent unemployment rate, but that is expected to decrease with the hiring of seasonal help.

Compared with many California markets, the South Coast office market is healthier although space availability has clearly increased, according to a September report on Santa Barbara County’s commercial real estate by Radius Group General Manager Brian Johnson and partner Bob Tuler.

“Retail trade employment has sharply declined over the past 24 months,” the report read. “While the pace of decline has clearly moderated, jobs are still leaving the sector.”

There are more State Street leases being signed as leasing rates stabilized in the 700 and 900 blocks, and the reduction in available space in the 1000 block bodes well, according to the report.

“But the vacancy rate looks set to rise as the vacancies surrounding the new REI location come onto the market, and we are seeing other new vacancies including the Men’s Warehouse that will bring large vacancies,” it read.

According to a Radius Group survey of retail space, the county’s vacancy rate increased from 1.3 percent to 2.3 percent from the summer of 2007 to the fall of 2010, and the price has significantly dropped.

Karen Dwyer, Noozhawk columnist and owner of Express Employment Professionals of Santa Barbara, a staffing company that provides human resource solutions for small- to medium-size companies, said she is encouraged to see recent spaces being filled up, and that overall, people seem to be feeling more confident that things are getting better and there is more hope for retailers.

“My company as a whole, we’ve hit 17 our of 18 highest weeks ever this year; this means staffing is coming back,” Dwyer said. “It starts to come back when you have 2 percent GDP growth, which we’ve hit now.”

She said she was surprised to hear of Little Piggy’s closure because she thought when it moved locations that it had a fighting chance.

“Being in Paseo Nuevo, there was probably high rent and great traffic, but the store probably didn’t have walk-by traffic and the same exposure,” Dwyer said, adding that it’s possible people couldn’t afford to shop there anymore.

But Dwyer said what is more worrisome on the national level isn’t when the smaller companies leave, it’s when the major retailers such as Ann Taylor Loft closed at La Cumbre Plaza in June.

Although the future of the Santa Barbara retail sector is uncertain, the loss of The Little Piggy Wears Cotton doesn’t sit well with some consumers.

“We’re sad and worried to see them go, and we’re going to miss them terribly,” said a Little Piggy customer who has shopped at the retailer for two years. “We always bought lots of clothes for the children here and were serviced by helpful and personable workers — we deliberately came here to give them business. ... It’s a shame.”

Noozhawk intern Alex Kacik is a graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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