First published in the Dec. 17 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
Chamber of Commerce President Laurie Wheeler used a double negative to describe the positive effect that the holidays are having on many businesses in South Pasadena.
“I haven’t heard of anyone who is not doing well,” Wheeler said of what she has heard and been told by merchants around town.
Shopkeepers who were interviewed in the past several days have confirmed as much. Several owners said that they think that the chamber’s campaign to shop locally has worked, and that some customers have “discovered” their businesses.
“We’re seeing a lot of customers who are new to us,” said Sue Strange, owner of Adobe Design, on Mission Street. “The holiday season has been great for us. I had some wool sweaters from Peru that I had to re-order three times. I only wish we had another weekend for people to shop.”
Wheeler noted that people are going out more — and ordering less from Amazon — this year than last year when Los Angeles County’s worst stage of the COVID-19 pandemic was on its ascent and heavy restrictions were returned to businesses.
“People are remembering how nice it is to have someone show them things they might be interested in,” Wheeler said. “And they are specifically trying to find what they want locally.
“Perhaps some of that may be because of the ‘Shop South Pasadena campaign’ the chamber has been promoting,” she continued, “and it may be that they have re-discovered small stores and the joy of discovering different kinds of merchandise.”
That joy has spread to The Red Shoes, on 1018 Mission St., where longtime owner Alice McIntosh said that she has been happily surprised by an increase in sales of all things ballet.
“Maybe it is because schools have re-opened, and performances have started up again,” she speculated, with a laugh, “and maybe it is because people aren’t shopping as much on Amazon as they used to, but business is way better than it was before. I’m able to make a living again.”
Diana March said Jeweled Universe at 1017 Mission St. — a business she launched during the pandemic — is now being discovered by new customers this holiday season.
“People are venturing out. I am seeing people for the first time, and they have liked what they saw and now they are coming back to buy something for the holidays,” March said.
March carries her own one-of-a-kind jewelry and paintings by local artists. The nightly entertainment in the form of live music at the back of her store is often selling out.
Pami Kohli, owner of Boutique Jasleen, a women’s clothing store at 1020 Mission St., said that business has been “a little down” this year, but that is better than last year when it was down by 50%. They had a holiday open house earlier this month that drew 100 people.
“People’s mindsets have changed. They are getting out less, but the community has really helped us out by shopping locally,” Kohli said. “The mood is definitely not the same as before the pandemic. People are not traveling as much, and they are working from home. Some people are saying, ‘If I don’t need it, I’m not buying it.’”
The vendors have less to offer because of shipping backups and because of increases in the cost of goods. However, merchants such as Kohli noted that she can’t change her price structure for fear of losing business.
“We just can’t raise prices anymore,” she said. “And expenses have definitely gone up.”
Kohli said that even climate change has figured into what she is ordering and what people are buying — even in Los Angeles. People used to buy fall clothes, but now summers last longer.
Wheeler hopes that the holiday trends will continue into the new year. She went through a list of places that she had heard good things about holiday sales including Raices, SugarMynt Gallery and House of Lucha. Moss and Meadows florist store reported that it was booked for weddings almost every weekend through the fall.
“People are seeing that small stores are not a one-off where you go once,” Wheeler said. “They are finding that these stores are a place of discovery.”
Dave Plenn, owner of Dinosaur Farm at 1510 Mission St., said his business had also picked up nicely.
“Things are going well,” Plenn said. “It’s going to be a good season. I took advantage of the early warnings about the supply chain and ordered early, and our basement is loaded with merchandise. So, it is going to be a good year. And I’m humbled and grateful that the locals have rallied around us, just as they did last year, and spread the word to support us.”