By Natalie Miranda
Walking down South Pasadena’s Mission Street on Saturday, locals might have observed a scene resembling a festive block party.
That’s because many small business owners took a breath of fresh air without their face masks to welcome customers to their establishments for Al Fresco Day for the first time since COVID-19 restrictions had largely subsided.
Al Fresco Day is hosted by South Pasadena’s Chamber of Commerce, with an aim at supporting small businesses. The event occurs on the third Saturday of every month, when local retail stores and eateries will bring their business to the sidewalks of South Pasadena or simply keep their storefront doors unlocked and ready for customers.
“This is the first one we’ve had while we’re back open again,” Chamber President/CEO Laurie Wheeler said. “Things are open and capacities are up. It’s just an exciting time. We just ask stores to be open and welcome people in.”
Camille DePedrini Boutique, also known as Camille’s, placed racks of clothing just outside its doors to entice shoppers. As customers walked into the boutique, they were treated to a trunk show to celebrate Al Fresco Day, when the establishment featured Ronni Kappos as its guest jewelry designer. The festivities also included 20% off select items.
Boutique owner DePedrini said the event has helped boost sales and foster a sense of connection within South Pasadena.
“We are so grateful for the Chamber of Commerce for coming up with the idea for Al Fresco Day,” DePedrini said. “The sidewalk sales have become a valuable asset to us, and they’re fun. It gets the community out and when people weren’t coming out as much, it was a great way to start. Now, people are more used to it and it’s been a really good thing.”
Camille’s was founded in 1998, spending 10 years on Fair Oaks Avenue and the past 13 at its Mission Street storefront. Since moving into town, DePedrini said the favorite part of her job is the community in which her business is a part.
“We love South Pasadena,” DePedrini said. “There’s no better place to do business. This town is all about community. We have customers from all over this area. We have built a really nice relationship with our customers. We couldn’t have gotten through it without them. I’m so grateful to the people that called and bought gift certificates and helped us get through, and here we are now amid the reopening. People want to shop, we are busy and it’s exciting.”
At the Dinosaur Farm, which has been in business for 27 years and strives to offer “not your ordinary toy store” experience, toys were set out as well and children could play with an inflatable dinosaur and puppets on the sidewalk.
“It makes things more festive and everybody else participates on the street so it’s a communal effort,” David Plenn, owner of the dino-themed store, said of Al Fresco Day. “It’s fun.”
The Dinosaur Farm, like many small businesses, was hit hard by the pandemic. It lost three months of business, but Glenn said the community’s support helped it have the best December it has had in 10 years.
He also estimated that the store had its best February, March, April, May and June in years.
“All the people came back and let me know that they were shopping here and not on Amazon,” Glenn said. “They’ve been very helpful and supportive, and we’re very appreciative of that.”
Mimo Boghossian, co-owner of Rue de Mimo, said Al Fresco Day is a step toward being more connected with the community, especially since the pandemic has lasted so long.
“We’re glad to be here,” Boghossian said. “It’s been nice to have our neighbors with the same mission participate, which makes South Pasadena a little, charming community.”
Kate Rothrock and Cherie Sandum came to Al Fresco Day together to visit Rue de Mimo, which sells clothing, shoes and accessories. The store was the first destination on their shopping trip.
“I love coming out to events like this one that are special, because we can support the community that way and have a really good time,” Rothrock said.
When Rothrock asked Sandum to tag along, the latter was on board to do some shopping.
“Rue de Mimo is a shop I often come back to and when I got the email about Al Fresco Day, my friend Kate called me right away to visit and I said ‘yes’ to going. So this was my first time coming out for Al Fresco Day, and I’m glad I did,” Sandum said.
The store also invited Eric Silva, a jewelry designer, to share his pieces with customers. The retail store has been a wholesale customer of Silva for nearly a decade.
Outdoors, in a white tent, he displayed his one-of-a-kind, handcrafted pieces. Pop-up events like this allow Silva to share his work and grow his business.
“I see this as a form of advertising by getting my email out and meeting people who will like what I’m doing and potentially buy from me later,” Silva said. “It helps to create good relationships as well.”
Boghossian said she admires Silva’s craftsmanship.
“He’s a fine metalsmith that works with many different mediums, like stones and found objects from nature,” she said. “His work can be feminine in a sultry, earthy way, and that is a great match for our brand, being contemporary, handmade and creative like Rue de Mimo.”
Boghossian said featuring artists such as Silva helps her store get exposure that it might not have had if it didn’t have a brick and mortar presence.
“It’s all about helping folks,” Boghossian said. “The role of a small entrepreneur is to collaborate with like minds and bring our heads together to be the foundation of a little, charming town. Without our small businesses and restaurants here, we would be generic. We have to continue to be the reason why people want to walk down Mission Street.”
On July 17, Wheeler said, Al Fresco Day will merge with the city’s pre-pandemic Arts Crawl.
“People would come out and it was a Saturday neighborhood night on the town, and stores would open late and it was a real fun thing. So we’re taking a baby step in that direction for our July Al Fresco, calling it Arts Crawl Al Fresco — it’s kind of a melding of the two,” she said. “We’re going to ask stores to stay open later, we’re going to have a comedian showcase, have artisans and crafters here as we’re building back toward what used to be the Arts Crawls.”