As the Jesusita Fire raged in the hills above Santa Barbara this past week, many local businesses had to shut their doors.
The combination of poor air quality, massive evacuation orders and widespread power outages during the fire forced many establishments to close temporarily and resulted in lower sales for those that remained open. Several of the businesses that stayed open reported significantly less foot traffic than normal.
According to Rudy Gonzales, a spokesperson for Southern California Edison, the fire created extensive electrical problems in Santa Barbara.
“On Tuesday and Wednesday, we had two pretty widespread outages as a result of the smoke getting into transmission lines,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales stated that a total of 32,850 customers, including businesses, were out of electricity for 18 minutes on Tuesday and for 36 minutes on Wednesday. As of Sunday, however, the majority of the buildings without electricity were residential.
Despite being located in the evacuation warning-zone, several local businesses chose to keep their doors open to customers. Max’s Restaurant owner Henrietta Forystek said she made the decision to stay open to help evacuees and fire personnel.
“I listened to the radio and they said that a lot of businesses were closed, but a lot of restaurants were open,” Forystek said. “We were trying to be here to take care of some of the customers. We wanted to be open to provide a hot meal or to feed the police or firemen.”
However, her eatery did experience a 30 percent drop in sales on Friday and Saturday.
“Wednesday and Thursday were no big deal,” Forystek said. “[But] after the big scare on Thursday night, [business] was really quite slow.”
Forystek also said she noticed the tourism that generally accompanies Mother’s Day was greatly impacted by the fires.
Juliana Olmstead, an employee of Bikram Yoga Santa Barbara on Upper State St., said the building did not experience any known electrical issues, but the studio was forced to close because of evacuation and health issues.
“We were right near the edge of the mandatory evacuation zone and there was all the smoke coming down the mountain,” Olmstead said. “It wouldn’t have been safe [to resume yoga classes].”
Classes were suspended at the studio from Wednesday night until Sunday morning, but Olmstead remained optimistic about resuming classes.
“Our students were bummed to have to miss yoga, but a lot of them were dealing with evacuations on their own,” she said.
Even customers noticed the difference in crowds over the course of the week. David Silva, a second-year business-economics and religious studies major, went shopping on State Street on Wednesday and said that the fires caused a huge slump in the number of people downtown.
“There was literally no traffic,” Silva said. “The way I know this is because, when I parked, I was able to get a spot right next to the escalator. For a Wednesday at three, that’s unheard of.”
Silva went to Macy’s and noted that the mall was nearly completely deserted.
“It was dead,” he said. “There were two or three customers in the whole store. Even the people working there complained. … Especially with Mother’s Day coming up, with nobody shopping for presents, they probably lost a lot of money.”
Although some establishments decided to stay open for business, multiple events were canceled and rescheduled due to the fire. The long-awaited opening of the Apple Store was scheduled for Saturday, but has been postponed until further notice.
The Santa Barbara Bowl’s Katy Perry concert, the Lobero Theatre’s performance by Lily Tomlin, the annual Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission luncheon at the Doubletree and the Sizzlin’ Fiddlin’ Santa Barbara Symphony Benefit Concert were among other postponed events. Additionally, the Granada Theatre closed and canceled the Santa Barbara Symphony’s performance of the Great Granada Finale.