Having worked in retail since I was 17 years old, I have seen it all …or maybe not. Business is not as usual in the summer of 2020. Retail stores in Solano County were allowed to reopen May 8, but with safety protocols that protect the customer and the staff. Just as stores were starting to reopen after being closed for 2 months or more, they were faced with the threat of looting and property damage. Business owners throughout major cities, and even here in Benicia, attached plywood to storefronts to protect their interests. A drive down First Street made me feel sad and somewhat helpless.
A signal of what may be coming is the closing or downsizing of many large retail chains throughout the country. The list seems to grow daily. I sometimes look at the business section of the paper like it’s an obituary.
Pier 1 Imports
Bed Bath and Beyond
Lord and Taylor
As far as small retailers, I saw many close permanently even before the pandemic. The Mustard Seed women’s specialty store, a long time fixture in Downtown Napa, was forced out because of high rents and new development. Specialtees in Lafayette closed about a year ago when the owner retired. Many more have still not reopened, and probably won’t.
I would like to report there is some good news in Benicia, retail is slowly returning with the warrior-like attitude of our business entrepreneurs. They are reinventing themselves with unique ways to serve their customers and stay open. Some of our businesses have not been as fortunate and are restricted by lack of space and costs that were insurmountable. We will lose their energy and wonderful establishments through this uneasy chapter.
Change is good and it is inevitable. In fashion, change is everything! I remain optimistic that through this transition we will survive and that brick and mortar stores still have a purpose. There are a lot of us that still want the experience of walking into a store (wearing a mask) and seeing beautiful and unique merchandise. We appreciate someone greeting us and offering help with the perfect purchase. Small specialty stores have an advantage in knowing their customer and reacting quickly to what is going on in their world. It is indeed retail therapy.
For Benicia, I am hopeful that the efforts that were established several years ago with our tourism outreach will continue. Economists say that generally people will not be traveling far from where they live. They will forgo getting on a plane or taking that exotic cruise. Instead they will do more day-trip travel to more local destinations. Our town holds a wonderful position in the Bay Area. We have wide open spaces where social distancing is in our DNA.
For those of you who have never or seldom had the Downtown experience, please try it now. Supporting our local businesses will mean the difference of having a vibrant First Street or one that will be boarded up long-term. Find out why….We are the Great Escape by the Bay!