Saturday, May 26 , 2018, 3:03 pm | A Few Clouds 71º



Feeling Boxed In, The Mermaid’s Chest Forced to Close

Owner Debbie Moore says she has seen a big drop in sales with beachfront construction restricting access to her Helena Avenue antique shop

Debbie Moore, with husband Larry Jones, says construction in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone has led to the demise of their antique store, The Mermaid’s Chest.
Debbie Moore, with husband Larry Jones, says construction in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone has led to the demise of their antique store, The Mermaid’s Chest. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

The mom-and-pop antique store isn’t being forced out of its Santa Barbara space, but the business owner says it might as well be.

The Mermaid’s Chest, nestled near the waterfront at 16 Helena Ave., Suite B, has been in the neighborhood for more than a decade and open locally for 20 years this fall, but the doors of the eclectic shop selling collectibles and more will close for good at the end of May.

Owner Debbie Moore said beachfront construction is to blame, blocking in her store because it’s one of the few only accessible along Helena Avenue.

The city closed that street to vehicle traffic this spring while crews work to replace the Cabrillo Bridge, leaving open a pedestrian walkway. The other end of Helena Avenue at Mason Street is also closed and congested because of work on Lower State Street’s La Entrada de Santa Barbara hotel and retail project.

Losing access wouldn’t be as big of a deal, except that 80 percent of Moore’s business comes from “happenstance” passersby.

That’s the margin of sales decrease she’s seen since last month.

“They promised me parking,” Moore told Noozhawk this month. “They promised me signage. A lot of the locals don’t even come down here.

“I live month to month. I was sort of blindsided by this because I really believed them.”

Them, being the city, which notified business owners of the construction years ago and vowed to help smooth the transition as best as possible.

Signs in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone direct patrons to The Mermaid's Chest and other businesses affected by construction in the area. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Because the Mermaid’s Chest and surrounding businesses are private properties, the city can’t offer any type of compensation, said Adam Hendel, city supervising engineer of the bridge project who has spoken with Moore on several occasions.

What the city can — and did — provide was the detour walkway for pedestrians, bikes and Segways (Segway of Santa Barbara is next to the Mermaid’s Chest), and signs on Anacapa Street noting the businesses were still open.

Parking made available to impacted businesses near the old Rusty’s Pizza location at Helena Avenue and Cabrillo Boulevard has since been devoted to bridge construction staging, Hendel said.

Construction for both projects will continue through 2016, he said.

“We’re looking for options for parking,” Hendel said, noting he sympathizes with affected businesses.

The Mermaid’s Chest, Segway of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Surfing Museum all front Helena Avenue. Also on that street, but with access on others, is Wheel of Fun Rentals at Cabrillo Boulevard and Blueline Paddlesurf and J7 Surfboards at Mason Street.

Posters advertising a 50-percent off everything sale at the Mermaid’s Chest are going up near new city signs, a sad end for Moore, an Indiana native who fell in love with Santa Barbara when she first visited the city in the late 1970s.

She runs her store selling “unique and unusual gifts” with husband Larry Jones, having moved the business a handful of times the past two decades. It first opened in 1995 near State and Mission streets as Uptown Thrift before moving into the Funk Zone.

Moore said she’ll go back to visit relatives in the Midwest after the store closes, then figure out what creative job she falls into next.

She isn’t holding out hope that signs will save her business, but she hopes locals and visitors will stumble upon her store one final time to help buy up years of inventory.

“I look for quality in things,” she said, pointing to well-made purses, jewelry, lamps, clothing, hats and other colorful items. “I love my customers. If you want to help, come buy.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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