Saturday, August 18 , 2018, 10:04 am | Overcast 70º

 
 
 
 
Shopping

Judy Foreman: Montecito Retail Scene Struggles to Rebound as Disaster’s Effects Linger

Energy and buzz return to Coast Village Road but Upper Village boutiques not yet feeling a recovery

 

Montecito’s recovery from the deadly Jan. 9 flash flooding and debris flows has been challenging. The physical and emotional damage has had an impact in every corner of the community.

While the staggering loss of life and property dominated the news for weeks afterward, an ongoing struggle has been the lethargic rebound and even disillusionment among small businesses in the area.

Coast Village Road and Highway 101 were closed for weeks. The restoration of the Montecito Inn at the hard-hit corner of Coast Village and Olive Mill roads took time. Mud removal from many storefronts was tedious.

Only now, six months later, has the energy begun to return.

Restaurants with outdoor patios — such as Los Arroyos, The Honor Bar, Jeannine’s Restaurant & Bakery, Cava, Tre Lune and Oliver’s — are benefiting from sunnier days.

Now that the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore has reopened, there has been a noticeable increase in foot traffic on Coast Village Road. On weekend mornings, couples carrying coffee cups and young families with strollers are a frequent sight again.

The Upper Village has not been so quick to bounce back. On a recent Saturday, I visited with several retailers I had frequented regularly but have not seen for months. The atmosphere was vastly different than Coast Village Road.

The Upper Village has been — and still is — mostly a locals neighborhood, with a quaint, small-town feel that lured so many of us to Montecito in the first place. Familiar faces greet you at the post office, the hardware store, the library, banks, the gas station and a surprising number of shops and boutiques.

I was heartened to see that the outdoor tables in front of Pierre Lafond and its nearby Wine Bistro were full again. Diners on the patios at Via Vai and Pane e Vino were enjoying lunch, wine and a moment of normalcy.

Sales associates at Upstairs at Pierre Lafond told me they are busier and starting to sense brighter days. Customers are returning, and each with a story to tell.

But the San Ysidro Village shopping center built by the Gunner family and completed in 2016, has felt like a ghost town most days, even thought the San Ysidro Pharmacy coffee shop patio was abuzz with customers.

Marie Ferris, owner of Juniper and only in her second year of business, has really felt the pain.

“The smaller high-end clothing boutiques have especially felt the downturn as people have focused their discretionary funds on rebuilding their homes, dealing with insurance companies and rebuilding their emotional infrastructures,” she told me.

With the nearby San Ysidro Ranch closed indefinitely, there have been no hotel guests to browse the boutiques.

“Between people not wanting to drive past the disaster zones, shopping the latest fashions has not yet seemed to resonate with most devoted fashion loving women, despite all the wonderful offerings at my store and my neighbors, Jenni Kayne and Julianne,” Ferris said.

On June 9, Ferris held an open house featuring vintners Marni and Doug Margerum’s chilled rosé wine, gourmet cheese, crackers, grapes and balloons. A lovely crowd of cheerful locals and neighboring merchants like Kristie Meland, co-owner of Hogue & Co. florist, completed the festive event.

Supporting our local shops and their employees has become a passion for all of us in the 93108, and especially for me. I’ve had the good fortune to know so many of the merchants and it’s been a privilege to introduce them to the community through my Noozhawk columns.

I have no doubt that our collective #montecitostrong efforts will bring our community back to life.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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