Thirty years ago, Marcel Monsivais was a shop owner in San Antonio, designing, cutting, sewing and hand-dying natural fiber for his clothing line. When retail scouts from Ghirardelli Square tried to lure him to San Francisco, Marcel headed west to check it out, first stopping to visit friends in Los Angeles. “You should open a store in Santa Barbara,” they told him. “That’s where everyone shops.” On his drive up the coast, stopping at one of those infamous 101 traffic lights, he saw the Santa Barbara sign and turned in. One stroll through the El Paseo courtyard and he was sold – he called the landlord from a payphone (1989, remember), showed off his samples, and wrote the first rent check that day.
Two months later, he had his first shop in Santa Barbara, but not for long – 6 months after opening, he moved to his current location at 531 State and has opened his door (at 11:07 am) there each day since. “I think everything’s kind of fate,” Marcel says, keeping an eye on browsing customers. “When we opened here, the 500 block was liquor stores and pawn shops.” One of the first entrepreneurs to plant the retail flag in Old Town, Marcel opened on Solstice Parade day – forever linking him to one of our most unique downtown celebrations.
And what a shop! Packed with shoes, jewelry, sweatshirts, cruise/beach/lounge wear, dresses, hats and more hats: fedora, billed, ball caps, beach hats, and one that caught my eye, the hemp roll hat. That one Marcel created from the ground up – using salvage material, hand-dying them so that each is one-of-a-kind. “Musicians go crazy for these,” Marcel says. One formerly local customer now owns a restaurant in Boise, Idaho, and buys these hats for his entire crew.
Why hemp? “Hemp is, hands down, the best breathability fabric,” Marcel says. “Athletes, active people – hikers, campers, surfers, climbers – love hemp clothing.”
Men love it because it’s simple and not frilly. Marcel held up a white linen shirt made in Ecuador with a pair of his signature pants – “I sold this to a guy going to a beach wedding, isn’t this elegant?” Women especially love a signature pant he makes – it’s comfortable and the perfect fit, every time. How do you know you’ve got a Marcel Hemp signature piece? Look for his logo – the digitized caricature of 2-year-old Marcel he uncovered in a box of photos.
“Success is all about making sure you have fun every day,” he says, alongside his new vice president (19-year-old son, August). “If it stops being fun, I’ll stop.” As one of many small, homegrown businesses surviving and thriving in Downtown Santa Barbara for 30 years, the fun is clearly here to stay.
Marcel Hemp (531 State), www.MarcelHemp.com, 805-963-8387
Finding paradise in Downtown Santa Barbara is easy – after all, Paradise Found has been in the same location for the past 33 years. When owner Teresa Taylor came across the opportunity to purchase the shop in 2000, she thought, If I can make this work, it’ll be bliss on a bun.
And blissful sums it up – enter the small space in the shadow of the Granada Garage and the world falls away, pushed back by sights, sounds and smells: colorful books and cards, gentle jingling of wind chimes, the peaceful aroma of incense.
Teresa made very few changes to the store at the beginning – she was not of this “world,” she says. Plus, she’d never worked retail, so it was a steep learning curve for this accidental entrepreneur. But she’s immersed now, flexing her creative, resourceful muscles for her customers every day. When I asked if she prefers being a little off State Street, she replied with a wry smile, “Yes – we’re a little off.”
Paradise Found, with two Standard Poodle shop dogs and a staff that includes a woman who has been coming in since she was two years old, welcomes a passionate customer base. “We have real, caring relationships with everyone,” Teresa says, “Staff, customers, vendors.” Agreed – when I walked in, Teresa was helping two longtime customers select crystals.
And who is the ideal customers for crystals, jewelry, incense, cards, clothing, tarot cards and a bit of clothing? “We have an amazing diversity – young kids to octogenarians to guys in business suits, to teens to 20-somethings,” says this 19-year Downtown Santa Barbara shopkeeper. “I know I'm doing my job when I see that diversity.”
Her location is ideal for a store that encourages exploration and seeking answers, surrounded by the Santa Barbara Public Library (she’s the daughter of the librarian), the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery, and The Book Den.
Traveling to trade shows to restock and refresh her vision on what’s new in the market, Teresa tells me, “When I was younger and walked into stores like this, I felt it was the Too Cool Cosmic Club. I didn't feel free to explore or be a beginner and now that is extremely important to me. Everyone is welcome.”
As she leads me out of her office and back into her comforting store, she nods and says, “What we’re doing and how we’re doing it – that’s what’s important.”
Paradise Found (17 E. Anapamu), www.ParadiseFoundSantaBarbara.com, 805-564-3573
I’m a girl who loves shopping, but I’ll admit – a children’s clothing store is a bit of a mystery to me.
So slipping into Peanuts Maternity & Kids was a new experience for this SLNK (single lady, no kids). I zigged past clothing racks buried under adorable mini hangers displaying the cutest tiny outfits to find owner Nicki Zuchowicz Horne in her cheerfully crowded upstairs office.
“Temporary insanity” she laughs, when I ask why she started Peanuts. This Santa Barbara native (Peabody, SB Junior High, SB High School) spent years in the Bay Area in the tech industry. Pregnant with her first, she returned to Santa Barbara and was inspired to open Peanuts when her boys were 1-year and 4-years old. And then she discovered what became the real reason behind her retail decision. “Pregnancy and raising young children can be a challenging and vulnerable time – I wanted to create a space where families feel supported and moms feel beautiful.
To that end, Peanuts not only serves families from conception to kindergarten, they’re also building a strong and loyal community of moms – and dads and grandparents – with maternity/nursing apparel plus some toys and party supplies. Feeling strongly about families of all income levels benefiting, Nicki sells gently used clothing on consignment alongside new fashions, “That way, we cover all price points.”
Customer service is the secret to nine years of success – her staff keeps tabs on customers’ likes and sizes and calls them up when, say, a new shipment of mermaid-inspired apparel arrives.
But the most unique feature of Peanuts is the classes - they offer not only a variety of weekly low cost classes for children (music, movement, photo sessions, preschool ballet – even a Father’s Day Ceramic Foot or Hand Print Workshop!), they also host free monthly parenting classes for adults.
“We just want the whole parenting experience to be as easy and magical as possible,” Nicki says.
Peanuts Maternity & Kids (9 E. Figueroa), www.peanutvine.com; 805-618-1640
Kate Schwab has lived and worked in Downtown Santa Barbara
since opening Borders Books & Music in 1995. Originally from the
landlocked state of Indiana, she is thrilled to be near the ocean but
doesn’t surf. She loves a great book, a good movie, a fine glass of
wine, a bit of shopping and a heck of a meal – so her role as
Marketing & Communications Manager of DSB is her dream job.