It was a retail icon, a testament to the 1990s rise of State Street in Santa Barbara as a shopping mecca.
The very name oozed luxury and aspiration. Saks Fifth Avenue.
And soon it will be gone.
The property at the corner of State and Carrillo streets in the 1000 block of the center of Santa Barbara will shortly undergo a bit of a transformation as Saks Fifth Avenue will give way to an Off-Fifth factory outlet store.
Most of the 55 employees will be turned out on the street. Sales people and department heads who could count on serious middle-class salaries and bonuses will be replaced by yet another cadre of hourly sales clerks struggling to pay the rent.
And State Street will get dumbed down again. The past decade has seen a depressingly familiar scenario as State Street welcomed Tilly’s, Marshalls and H&M as local specialty stores departed.
Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo holds on to a few local stores but icons like Copeland’s are long gone. Thousand Oaks has struggled with projects like The Lakes, and downtown Ventura has yet to find the right mix of enduring retail shops.
State Street is an exemplar of what’s going on. Seemingly flourishing amid a retail recovery driven by tourists and casual shoppers, Santa Barbara’s urban core is coming to resemble a factory outlet center more than a central business district.
Saks’ departure is partly a matter of timing — an Off-Fifth store has more leverage in negotiating favorable terms when its lease expires. And it is partly a matter of demography — Saks stores need a lot of upper middle class and super-rich shoppers and that probably means a market that’s growing faster than the South Coast.
In addition, retail mayhem is in the air. Gap is closing 175 stores and even vaunted Michael Kors has been struggling. Finally, there are wounds that are self-inflicted.
Saks stumbled badly and was sold to the parent of Canadian retailer Hudson Bay, whose dark overlords have been quietly downsizing the Saks empire for which they perhaps overpaid. Among the cuts, a one-time vibrant store in Denver was razed to make way for a Restoration Hardware super store.
Finally, there is the ongoing change in the way people shop. For Saks and its uber-wealthy clients, it means replacing a small outpost of a luxury chain with personal shoppers sent from Beverly Hills, direct sales via the web and same-day delivery via courier.
For the rest of us, it means the drudgery of pawing through off-price merchandise, hoping to find a stray piece of Armani.
In Memoriam: Robert W. Kummer, Jr.
He was perhaps the best business banker of his generation. Robert W. Kummer, Jr. was a Pennsylvania native who moved his family to California to start a job at Union Bank. By 1981, he had 20 years in banking and struck out on his own, launching First Business Bank in Los Angeles.
After partnering with the legendary John E. Anderson, he had the great fortune of selling the bank a second time to Bank of New York Mellon.
Along the way he was a leader in the PGA of Southern California, a trustee of Pomona College and, after he retired to Santa Barbara, a member of the advisory board at Westmont College.
Kummer passed away on June 10. Donations can be made to Cottage Health, Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, the Scholarship Foundation or Westmont.