North Coast traffic on recent summer days has been crowded, even briefly bumper-to-bumper, but fiscal impact on local businesses’ trade appears to have been a mixed bag, according to some entrepreneurs.
Tom Walsh of Cambria Coffee Roasting Co. said Tuesday, July 26, that between his retail coffee house and wholesale business combined, “we’re up about 20 percent. We’ve done really well.”
He said when he bought the business 10 years ago, “there’d be two busy months in the summer, maybe three, and then a big dip for the other seven months. If you put it on a graph, there’d be a big hump and a big valley. And now, the big valley has disappeared,” a business trend he attributes to “tremendous support from the local people. We get a good bump from tourism.” But year-round, “we’ve counted on and relied on support from the local community … We’ve been blessed.”
Hearst Castle has an effect on North Coast tourism, and visitor counts there were up by about 1.5 percent in the first two weeks of July, according to estimates from Dan Falat, superintendent of the State Park district that includes the Castle.
He said Tuesday he didn’t have final figures for the fiscal year that ended June 30, but those are “projected to be slightly above last year’s attendance, and we think that’s healthy for not only the Castle, but for all of San Luis Obispo County.”
Falat said that throughout 2015, people took 744,174 tours at the former San Simeon estate of wealthy media magnate William Randolph Hearst.
There were 718,227 total visits in 2013 and 754,407 visits in 2014, according to state-provided figures published in The Cambrian in January 2015.
Some others agree that 2016 sales are trending upward.
According to Heather Trimble, owner of Casa de Oro, “The year started pretty darn slow,” but “traffic is up, absolutely, and things are picking up and doing well. Some other business owners I’ve talked to say it’s like the old days, and they’re doing well, too.”
Trimble has owned the fine-jewelry shop since 2009, and before that, had worked at the store since former owner Sheila Hollingshead moved it to Cambria from Los Osos more than three decades ago.
It’s been a really good summer so far, but a strange progression of how the business is coming in.
Jay Somers, Indigo Moon
“Last year was not so good, basically,” said Oz Barron of Ball & Skein & More. “People were in town, but they weren’t spending money in retail stores. It was our first ‘down’ summer,” in the seven years since the Barrons “fell in love with the area,” bought a home and the yarn shop on the same day, “picked up and moved here from Boston.”
Some entrepreneurs have noticed changes when people are in town.
Jay Somers has been in the Cambria restaurant business for more than 20 years, and he called this year’s dining patterns at Indigo Moon “strange, but great. … It’s been a really good summer so far, but a strange progression of how the business is coming in.”
For instance, Indigo Moon’s lunch business is mostly down, he said, as other business owners have told him is the case at other “really good lunch places in town.”
But “nighttime is rockin’ the boat,” Somers said, “with a nice blend of foreign tourists (Italian, French, English) coming through. It’s really fun.”
Perhaps the change is due to mostly pleasant, cool weather here and the hot weather inland, or an increase in the number of wineries and other activity destinations visitors go to during the day, he surmised.
He also attributed the restaurant’s increased dinner business to higher ratings on social media sites.
Shay Bell of the 2- month-old store Muse said shopping patterns, are unusual there, as well.
Spring wasn’t great, and June was down versus last year, but it seems to be picking up in July.
Oz Barron, Ball & Skein & More
“You’ll have a really good Tuesday and slow Wednesday one week,” and then it’ll flip the next week.
She also said local events can have a huge effect: “Last week was fabulous, but I found out later there was a huge baseball tournament in town, and the moms wanted to shop.”
The week before, when there was a big lavender festival elsewhere, sales were slow. “But the vacation rentals seem to be completely booked.”
Now Barron and others are pinning their hopes on the remainder of summer 2016.
“We’re hoping it is better than last year. We all need it,” he said. “Spring wasn’t great, and June was down versus last year, but it seems to be picking up in July.”
And about that traffic — on July 16, Tom Shankle of Cambria posted on the “You knew you grew up in Cambria if …” Facebook group that “Longtime residents of Cambria are used to weekend visitors and a moderate traffic increase on Highway 1. This year we have experienced an invasion of tourists like never before.
“The traffic on Highway 1 has exploded,” he wrote, “and is constant throughout the week. They can’t all be coming to Cambria — there just isn’t enough room — so they must going on to Hearst Castle or taking the drive up through Big Sur to Carmel and Monterey.”
He showed a photo he took of heavy traffic moving toward Cambria “on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of July, not the Fourth of July weekend. Absolutely mind blowing.”
Another motorist counted 49 northbound vehicles lined up at the light at Ardath Drive and Main Street intersection with Highway 1 about 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 10, with about 25 others close behind.
Yes, summer’s here on the North Coast.