Sunday, October 23, 2016

All they want for Christmas are shoppers

Eagle Rock store owner Kelly Witmer didn’t wish anyone a “Happy Holiday” or offer a cheery “Seasons Greetings” in her December email to customers. Instead, Witmer’s message was blunt and bleak: “Going out of business sale!!!!….Looks like we are going to be another casualty of the economy.”

Witmer’s Regeneration store on Colorado Boulevard is one of the scores of independent boutiques, bars, cafes, vintage stores and galleries that opened their doors on Eastside streets as neighborhoods gentrified in recent years. But with the economy sinking fast, how many of these shops will survive if the holiday shopping season is as bleak as many predict? Some fear that a rash of empty storefronts, whether on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock or Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, will have a broader economic impact on surrounding neighborhoods.

“A neighbor was talking to me the other day about my store and some others in the neighborhood closing, and said ‘What’s going to happen to our property values?'” said Witmer in an email. “Well, THAT’S why it’s important to support your local businesses!”

Witmer has ridden through numerous economic ups-and-downs over the years as the founder and owner of several small shops during her career. She was one of the pioneers who helped revive Sunset Junction during the 1990s by opening Pull My Daisy, which she sold off a few years later. She was also part owner of the Lincoln Heights vintage store Revival. Then, in June 2006, as interest in all things “green” was spreading, Witmer opened Regeneration, a store featuring items made out of recycled or sustainable materials. Regeneration’s shelves were stocked with items like recycled plastic sandals, boxes made out of used magazines and fabrics woven from bamboo and organic cotton fibers and jewelry made out of coconut shells and discarded glass and pottery.

Business was slow at first but began to build in a few months. Regeneration generated enough sales, about $6,000 a month, to allow Witmer to break even and provide her with what amounted to a minimum-wage salary. But she continued to struggle and then things got worse.

Sales started to drop dramatically last August and by November they were down by about half compared to last year, Witmer said.

“To try and stimulate more sales, I’ve had sales, mark-downs, art openings but have had little response or turn-out,” said Witmer, who lives in Eagle Rock. “While there are many things I enjoy about it, and I’m lucky to have some truly nice, loyal customers, I go crazy if I’m in there all the time. I hire someone to work a few days a week, but that makes my profit too small for it to be really worth it.”

So, now, Witmer is struggling to sell off unsold inventory and possibly find partners to share the corner storefront on Colorado Boulevard. Witmer has supplemented her income by working as an agent selling real estate. That business is not exactly booming either and can force Witmer to close Regeneration while she shows a house to prospective home buyer.

“I know [Regeneration] customers are put off by that,” Witmer said. “But I’ve got to make a living.”

Photos: Regeneration

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