The quirky, personality-rich stores that line the streets of Laguna Beach, California, are a big part of the coastal city’s character. But it has been a slow year for these shops, and they are counting on the upcoming Small Businesses Saturday on Nov. 28 to help bolster sales.
Laguna Beach is home to more than 100 independent small businesses; some have been around for decades. But due to the pandemic, a number of retailers have struggled to remain open.
“We still haven’t really recuperated,” Isaac Hernandez, manager of Candy Baron, told The Epoch Times.
The Candy Baron—“literally, the only candy shop in Laguna”— is a child’s paradise, filled with a huge assortment of sweet treats and other novelties. The downtown store relies heavily on tourism and foot traffic, but in recent months, out-of-town visitors have been few and far between.
“This was probably the worst summer that we’ve ever had,” Hernandez said. “I’ve noticed that we haven’t had a lot of Internet orders because of the big chains grabbing all the business. We’ve not been able to catch up with them because we’re a small business.”
Still, Hernandez remains hopeful for a busy weekend as the holidays approach.
“Small Business Saturday does help a lot,” he said. “Luckily, in the City of Laguna Beach, most of the locals do support a lot of the small businesses. Because, like myself, I’ve lived in this town for 30 years … I’d rather go to the local pharmacy than go to like CVS because I’d rather they get more business.”
‘It’s Like a Party’
Martin Ulrich, co-founder of Vertigo Home, feels events such as Small Business Saturday are vital for ensuring the success of independent stores.
“If people want to continue having small shops in their towns, they’re going to have to support them,” he told The Epoch Times. “If they continue shopping on Amazon, there won’t be any small shops left.”
Ulrich describes Vertigo Home as a concept store that offers a range of stylish items with a northern European flair—gifts, upholstery, high-end furniture, lighting, and eyewear.
“You can get a little bit of everything,” he said.
Vertigo Home, now in its 10th year of business, is among the few stores that maintained a relatively steady stream of business during the pandemic, Ulrich said.
“We’ve been able to sustain it with the online [sales], thank God,” he said. “I think people are staying home, so home accessories are a good branch to be in. We also offer upholstery services, so people are sitting at home, looking at their old sofa, and deciding to go ahead and get something new or redo the old.”
He said they’ve been participating in Small Business Saturday as far back as he can remember.
“It’s a great Saturday,” Ulrich said. “It’s like a party going on, because all the stores are doing the same thing.”
‘An Instant Connection’
Upon entering Hobie Surf Shop, named after famed surfboard craftsman Hobie Alter, the history and legacy behind the brand is apparent. Old surfboards and memorabilia hang from the ceiling and walls.
“It is just kind of a cool little piece of history when you walk in here,” said assistant manager Hannah Fait. “There’s so much story behind it, and it’s really cool to just talk to other people and hear their story. It’s an instant connection.”
But the pandemic put a pause on those connections when the store had to close its doors for nearly two months. Then, it transitioned into curbside pick-up. Now, its doors are open, but only for a limited number of customers at a time.
“It’s been an interesting year, as it has been for everyone,” Fait told The Epoch Times. “So it is just kind of like, you know, a little bit of a different shopping experience. But it’s been great. And people have been very cool about it all. Our online has definitely picked up, so I’m curious to see how that continues through the holidays.”
For her, Small Business Saturday is about “keeping the local businesses around and really just giving back to the community,” she said.
A Special Community
For Debby Carman, the owner and artist behind Faux Paw Petique art gallery, shutting down her store for three months during the pandemic dealt a major blow to her revenue.
“It was very devastating,” she told The Epoch Times.
Carman is a cartoonist, author, and sculptor whose ceramic dog bowls, mugs, plates, and decorative wall art display her signature multi-colored depictions of cats and dogs.
“We’re the world’s most beautiful pet ceramics,” she said. “There’s nobody in the world that’s doing what I’m doing.”
If it hadn’t been for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans—“all of which went to pay back rent,” she said—and alternative revenue streams, her businesses might not have survived.
Now, Carman is counting on the kind of foot traffic that Small Business Saturday is likely to draw. She said, “it’s very, very important” for people to come out and shop local.
Tomi Miller, co-owner of Laguna Coffee Co., agreed. She told The Epoch Times, “We have such a special community here in Laguna, and we support each other.”
Her coffee company has started donating 10 percent of its Sunday earnings to local small businesses.
“[It’s about] giving back and doing anything we can to help during the pandemic,” Miller said. “We want to be a light and give people a safe place and a good community to enjoy.”