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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

Ventura County Retail Sales Suffer From Thomas Fire

The winter holidays are typically the jolliest time of the year for the region’s small businesses, but the Thomas Fire has dealt a setback to Ventura County’s retail and service sector that will likely spill over into the coming year. “It’s tough to get our arms around the actual monetized economic impact, but from talking to businesses … (it’s clear) that the impact is massive,” Bruce Stenslie, chief executive of the Ventura County Economic Development Collaborative, told the Business Journal. The Thomas Fire has burned roughly 271,000 acres since it began on Dec. 4, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and it was 45 percent contained Monday. The fire continues to expand northward into Santa Barbara County and the Los Padres National Forest, forcing evacuations and turning once-thriving downtowns into smoky ghost towns. “What’s so difficult about this is that it happened right in the middle of the holiday season,” Stenslie said. “The impact has been mostly to homes – but while the businesses look fine, they don’t have any customers.” Retailers on average generate 20 to 30 percent of their annual income during the Christmas shopping season, according to the National Retail Federation, while hotels enjoy a robust portion of their own yearly profits from holiday travel. In regions like the Ojai Valley, where roughly a third of the jobs are in hospitality, the closure of mainstay lodges like the Oaks at Ojai and the Ojai Valley Inn is a blow to the local economy, Stenslie explained. “The Ojai economy is wildly dependent on those room nights, and the rooms are all empty,” he said. Downtown Ojai is expected to lose as much as 20 percent of its annual income this year on account of the Thomas Fire, a trend that will likely carry over into 2018, Stenslie said. The collaborative and other advocacy groups, like chambers of commerce, are working on finding ways to ease the financial strain small businesses will face as they attempt to stabilize amidst the fire fallout. Meanwhile, businesses themselves along with trade organizations are banning together to reach out to holiday shoppers with a clear message: Buy from us, not from Amazon. “The only way you survive is by people spending money locally,” Stenslie said. “A really material form of disaster relief is to buy local to keep businesses and employees on the job.”

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