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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Spirit Lives in Goleta

Santa Barbara Seems Depressed by Comparison

By Silvia Uribe

Ah, the winter season! Everyone is filled with the holiday spirit-or are we? As do many others, I spend half of my days in Santa Barbara and the other half in Goleta. In talking to my friends I've found out that it has been quite difficult for many, especially in Santa Barbara, to get into the holiday mood this year.

"I think that people in Santa Barbara are a little depressed with all of the financial problems that the whole country is facing," one of my friends said, while the rest nodded in agreement. Many have planned to reduce the ornament buying, the food cooking, and the gift giving. For those who lost their homes due to a calamity such as fire or a foreclosure it is even worse. Their holiday spirits, in some cases, have gone into deep comas.

Santa Barbara's malls seem way less busy this year. Last week I went to what's commonly known as a "high end" store in which I was the only customer. I'm not kidding you! I was attracted inside by the curiosity of seeing a lovely purse discounted from $1,300 to only $650. What a bargain not! I came out empty handed, as you probably already guessed.

Another thing that seems to have an effect on people's perception of the magnitude of the crisis are the stores and restaurants that no longer exist, and the ones that will disappear shortly, notwithstanding what seem to me the permanently empty commercial spaces, and the notion that there will be more of them. These give us the impression that things are not going to be better any time soon. Not even in a town that people consider to be well-off, like Santa Barbara. How landlords can maintain these commercial spaces empty, for such a long time, is beyond my comprehension. It goes against logic and pragmatic commercial tactics, which indicate that a reduced income is better than no income at all, but what do I know!

In Goleta, for some reason the situation feels more hopeful. It is like we are looking at our problems with a different perspective. People seem more into the celebrations; stores at the various commercial conglomerates on Calle Real, on Fairview, and at Storke and Hollister, as well as in Old Town, seem as busy as any other Christmas, and the store fronts around the city are filled with lights and merchandise, inviting even the most frugal of people to go inside, look around, and buy one or two things. What the heck!

Roaming around Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace and talking with the president of Wynmark Company, Mark Linehan (the force behind the Marketplace's development and the visionary of Girsh Park), I learned that most businesses are not only staying in Goleta, but new ones are trying to get into the area as soon as possible and fill the few empty spaces available. But what is the secret to retaining businesses and attracting more in an economy that's less than certain? Simple, said Linehan. "The Marketplace is locally owned and this makes it unique."

According to Linehan, the operating costs of other malls are extremely high, and this is reflected in the rents they charge. All the marketing that other malls do ends up being added to their lease contracts. "At the Marketplace, each business is in charge of their own marketing, making the spaces quite affordable, and that's why our tenants want to get leases here for 10 or 20 years in some cases."

Although the general financial situation might not be propitious-the national chain Linens 'n Things went out of business and CompUSA (sold to Systemax) closed its Goleta branch-Linehan believes that the space that Linens 'n Things occupied will have a new tenant by the end of January. If that's the case, you'll read about it here first. For now, as you probably already know, Best Buy is remodeling the old CompUSA space. If everything goes as planned, it will open its doors in April. Another tenant that just signed a contract to come to the Marketplace is Holdren's Steak and Seafood. It will be housed across from the Hollister Brewing Company, next to Chili's.

The Grapevine has also learned that a project to build an "urban village" is in its preliminary stages. It is to include some 300 living units and a number of commercial spaces for small local businesses. The proposed location is that big vacant tract on Hollister, right across from the Marketplace.

So, for all intents and purposes we can be reassured that Goleta is truly the Good Land, where people share hope for better times; and that we Goletanos know how to make a delicious lemonade when handed lemons.

Happy holidays!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

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