Thursday, May 24 , 2018, 2:52 pm | Overcast 61º




Whiff of Disagreement Surfaces on State Street Over Cosmetics Stores’ Sidewalk Solicitations

Neighboring businesses say practice scares away customers, but an official reprimand is not so clear-cut

Several State Street cosmetics shops were closed last week after neighboring businesses complained of their solicitation practices, including Gold Elements at 911 State St. There has been no word on whether the businesses will reopen or if the closure is temporary. Click to view larger
Several State Street cosmetics shops were closed last week after neighboring businesses complained of their solicitation practices, including Gold Elements at 911 State St. There has been no word on whether the businesses will reopen or if the closure is temporary.                      (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

If you’ve spent any time on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara, you’ve probably seen them: black-shirt wearing cosmetics employees reaching over the sidewalk to give free beauty product samples to passers-by.

Neighboring business owners think the sales practice is too aggressive, and they told City Attorney Ariel Calonne as much during a meeting last month.

What the city can do about the solicitation tactic remains to be seen, but Calonne said he’s working to investigate the matter alongside Santa Barbara police.

“They expressed serious concerns about the on-street business solicitation that the cosmetics stores are doing,” Calonne said, noting some allege the employees are encroaching on the sidewalk.

The cosmetics businesses in question all offer lotions, creams and other products touting a youthful glow. They include Adore Organic Innovation at 923 State St., Gold Elements at 911 State St., Vine Vera at 1101 State St. and Oro Gold at 651 Paseo Nuevo.

All four businesses have proper licensing, Calonne said, although two were out of compliance as recently as last week.

While sidewalk sales and portable signs posted outside businesses are illegal practices per city municipal code — and are investigated on a complaint basis by the zoning department — the legality of regulating soliciting employees is a bit murkier.

Zoning deals with signs, not people.

“The line is basically outside” the business, city code enforcement officer Danny Kato said of the sidewalk sign rule.

Maybe a new municipal code should be created for public safety, said Erica Dahl, who owns the Savvy on State shop next to Gold Elements.

Some businesses won’t speak out because they fear retaliation, but Dahl said enough is enough. Gold Elements employees have even tried to solicit her.

“Just from talking to customers, people find it frustrating, annoying, invasive — all of the above,” said Dahl, who opened her retail location four years ago this month.

“If I can cross the street, personally, I will cross the street to avoid them. A lot of people are really bothered by it, and it takes a lot for people to say something.”

Dahl and the owner of Plum Goods have tried to talk to Gold Elements management about employers scaring away customers or littering the back alley street with cigarette butts, but they never hear back.

Not knowing what else to do, the owners of Jewelry by Gauthier at 921 State St. called the police twice in January to complain about sidewalk peddling next door at Adore Organic Innovation.

Sgt. Riley Harwood said officers responded to disturbances that on one occasion even led to a “screaming match” between both sides. Police advised parties to seek civil action against each other, but he said officers weren’t able to find an Adore manager.

The jewelry store has since repositioned its on-site security guard to make sure Adore employees don’t get too close, and installed a new security camera facing the store, an employee said.

The only other cosmetics store grievance on file is from June 2014, when a tourist claimed she had been taken advantage of emotionally at Gold Elements, Harwood said.

She was having a bad day and ended up spending about $26,000 at the store after employees gave her a free facial and champagne — a case of “buyer’s remorse,” Harwood said. The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office investigated the matter but found no wrongdoing.

“That doesn’t mean, of course, that these business practices are appropriate or good,” Harwood said.

All the cosmetics stores were locked up during business hours last week or closed intermittently, so Noozhawk could not reach anyone for comment.

Calonne said he was still looking at the facts and wouldn’t comment on specifics, including whether zoning rules should apply to cosmetics employees.

Harwood wasn’t privy to the investigation, but he said this type of concern was ripe for interdepartmental teamwork.

“It’s not uncommon for folks from a variety of city departments to collaborate on issues like this,” Harwood said.

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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