Some Downtown SLO retail stores concerned about future following COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 5:40 PM, Apr 15, 2020

Retail sales across the U.S. fell 8.7 percent last month, making a record-breaking fall.

Clothing stores took the biggest hit, with sales down more than 50 percent.

Local business owners have either had to shut their doors or scale back operations significantly.

A recent meeting with the Downtown SLO Association revealed about one-third of owners who were polled are uncertain about their company’s future once the coronavirus crisis ends.

Several businesses have not received any financial help from the government yet and are now trying to market themselves any way they can.

For some stores in Downtown San Luis Obispo, this hardship follows what was already a financially challenging time.

"We've been dealing with parking and issues with so much construction downtown for the new hotels that were being built. We've seen a huge slowdown over the last few years with people coming downtown. They just completed those hotels and we were really looking forward to this spring, thinking it was going to be a great year," said the owner of Apropos, Natalie Risner.

Now trying to navigate e-commerce for the first time, Risner says they’re working on new marketing ideas like making wardrobe boxes for customers to try to make ends meet.

"We almost feel guilty asking people to shop because we don't need clothing - it's a luxury item - but it does make us feel better to have new stuff," Risner said.

Stores like Blackwater already have a large following on social media, but say it’s not enough as if they still have not received financial assistance from the government.

"So what you make from your online sales or DMs is basically all you have and those are going to pay all of your overheads," said co-owner of Blackwater, Mary Alice Hamilton.

Once they are able to reopen, Hamilton says they may change the way the store operates.

"We probably will be having somebody at the door only allowing people in with face masks, limiting the number of people in the store, and disinfecting everything in-between sales because it's definitely not going to be business as usual," Hamilton explained.

Both store owners KSBY talked to say they're concerned with rent prices once they are able to reopen. Some landlords have offered breaks for the month of April but there is concern about the rate people will be shopping once things go back to normal.

"If those rents go back to the way they used to be, businesses are not going to be able to make it. It's not going to be flourishing for a while like it was," Hamilton said.

In a statement, the City of San Luis Obispo tells KSBY:

State and Local proclamations did take action to preclude eviction through May 31st. These proclamations did not extend to providing relief in terms of the contract between a property owner and tenant and we are not aware of a rent-cap being a component of them. The City is encouraging tenants to reach out to their landlord as soon as possible and visit the Virtual Assistance Center to determine if any of the benefits might be applicable to their situation.

Click here to visit the Virtual Assistance Center.

The Downtown SLO Association is doing what it can for businesses in this trying time by hosting weekly Zoom meetings to gauge the needs of local businesses and helping them get connected with resources.

They say you can still support local businesses now by buying gift cards, shopping online or leaving reviews on social media.

The association has created a virtual downtown and compiled lists of businesses still open here.