Midtown Sac Small Businesses See Mixed Holiday Success

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
At Zanzibar Fair Trade on the corner of L and 18th streets, co-owner Josh Varner is playing the rationalization game.
Varner: “We are probably down about 50 percent this year from previous years. We are probably up from my personal expectations 40 percent.”
Ben: “In other words, you were expecting things to be abysmal.”
Varner: “Absolutely.”
Ben: “And they’re only partially abysmal.”
Varner: “Only partially abysmal.  When you set your expectations low to begin with, it’s hard to be disappointed by the results.”
Zanzibar’s shelves are filled with eclectic pottery, baskets and textiles – all imported from more than a hundred different countries.  Normally, Varner and the shop’s other owner travel all over the world to stock their store.  But this entire year, they haven’t left the U.S.  They’ve also taken personal pay cuts, reduced their own insurance coverage and cut their employees’ hours.  All because fewer customers are poking their heads through the door.
Varner: “There are many, many state workers in the area who all patronize this little microcosm of Midtown. With the pay cuts they’re experiencing, they’re not spending nearly as much. People are being more choosy this year in what they’re picking out.”
A couple of other Midtown businesses whose owners declined to be interviewed also said their sales are down.  But over at Lumens Light + Living at 21st and K Streets, showroom manager Elizabeth Lake says holiday sales are about where they were last year.
Lake: “You know what? It’s really actually going pretty well, considering the economy, downturn, recession, all that. I think we’re really holding our own.”
Of course, that’s 20 percent below revenues from back before the bubble had burst.  But Lake will take it.  And even more surprising, she says …
Lake: “We brought things in at all price points and kept it broad, so there was kind of something for everyone. But I haven’t heard a lot of people making real comments about price.”
That mixed success also appears to be holding true for other shops in the district.  The Midtown Business Association says some stores are doing better than others, though at least no one has closed their doors in the middle of the holiday season.