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While some rolled the dice and launched new businesses, much of 2020 was punctuated by companies closing their doors.
Perhaps the biggest business story locally was decades in the making. Prompted by the pandemic, the City of Santa Barbara closed several blocks of State Street to cars and opened up the area to outdoor dining, pedestrians and bicyclists. The move instantly revolutionized the culture of downtown — before Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest stay-at-home order turned it into a ghost town.
State Street was already struggling with a couple dozen storefront vacancies and overall commercial vacancy rates in the double digits. The pandemic pushed out the businesses that were hanging on by a thread.
Among them was the iconic Nordstrom in the Paseo Nuevo mall. Amid continual rumors and denials for years about the store’s imminent closure, Nordstrom — once a golden anchor of the mall — shut its doors, casting a shadow over the future of the mall.
Its other anchor tenant, originally The Broadway then Macy’s, closed up shop in 2018, so Nordstrom’s demise was like the other spouse finally consenting to the divorce; it was the end of an era.
Paseo Nuevo has been at the center of negotiatons over a development agreement to keep the mall downtown for decades. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk file photo)
At the same time, Paseo Nuevo was facing its own uncertainty. The mall’s owner, Pacific Retail Capital Partners, was looking to create a development agreement with the City of Santa Barbara that would have resulted in the mall making $20 million in infrastructure and tenant improvements.
The mall’s lease with the city began in 1990 and extends through 2065. As part of the development agreement, Paseo Nuevo Owners LLC wants the ability to extend the lease through 2093. The deal is intended to provide Paseo Nuevo Owners LLC long-term lease security in the heart of downtown, while providing the city with a greater financial investment from the mall owners.
But the Santa Barbara Planning Commission at the last minute tanked the agreement, saying the city needed more financial benefit out of the deal. The two sides are working on new terms of an agreement. In the meantime, there is talk of a hotel replacing Nordstrom and possibly a housing development going inside the old Macy’s building.
The pandemic forced hundreds of restaurants and retail businesses to lay off employees. Unemployment applications skyrocketed, and the business community is likely to be reeling from the economic shutdown for years to come.
There was some relative good news in 2020.
After much secrecy, Amazon arrived downtown, inside the old Saks Fifth Avenue building at 1001 State St. The location houses engineers and other employees focusing on content and functionality for smart speaker Alexa. The company’s debut was not without controversy, however, with some local business owners and activists worried that Amazon’s presence would drive up the cost of leases downtown, and whether an office tech company was the right fit for a building that was historically retail.
Amazon employees moved into the new State Street offices in downtown Santa Babrara in January 2020. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk file photo)
In other good business news, birria queso taco restaurant YonaRedz opened on State Street, Pascucci found a new home downtown, and Turkish coffee and treats shop Lokum debuted.
Amid all of the changes, one of the most notable was the end of “Sambo’s” — at least in name. Long considered a disparaging and racist term for black and Native American people, the owners of the waterfront restaurant heeded calls from protesters to change the name. Although owner Chad Stevens said the name came from the original owners — a combination of their two names, Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett — he agreed to change it in June.
“At this point, our family has looked into our hearts and realize that we must be sensitive when others whom we respect make a strong appeal. So today we stand in solidarity with those seeking change and doing our part,” Stevens said.
Also, the Goleta Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region announced the merger of the two organizations, saying it creates a unified voice for South Coast businesses. Carpinteria eventually joined, and the organizations are now known as the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce.
The following is a listing of Noozhawk’s top 15 business stories, based on pageviews, for 2020.
The bucolic grounds of Rancho San Carlos in Montecito as seen through the gate of the 237-acre property off East Valley Road. News of the sale of the historic ranch, after being on the market for six years, was Noozhawk’s No. 1 business story of 2020, based on pageviews. (Bill Macfadyen / Noozhawk file photo)