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Business & Economy

Businesses take a hit after disasters close the 101

A resident uses a broom to clean mud from in front of her home following a mudslide on January 12, 2018 in Montecito, California.
A resident uses a broom to clean mud from in front of her home following a mudslide on January 12, 2018 in Montecito, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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More than a week after devastating mudslides ravaged the town of Montecito, communities up and down the coast are struggling to recover. A lot of it has to do with highway 101, part of which is shut down until next Monday.

Many shops and restaurants can't thrive without tourist traffic.

"It's not good at all. It's a nightmare," says Pierre Henry, owner of the bakery Bree'osh just off the 101 near Montecito. "The business is usually busy to mid January, so right now there is no way to do business because everything was closed."

Henry adds that just months ago, he invested in things like a new delivery van and upgraded equipment. Without an income, it'll be hard for him to pay it off.

Then there's the added irony that his restaurant was just outside the mandatory evacuation zone.

"It means if we ask for the insurance to get covered, it's not going to happen because if you're not [inside an evacuation zone], there is nothing to ask and there is nothing to cover," he says.

Farther south on the 101 is A-Frame Surf Shop.

"It's been terrible," says owner Sam Holcombe, "really, really bad."

He lives nearby in Summerland, which was completely cut off from his shop because of the 101 shutdown.

"I couldn't even get to my business until Friday, and then I got here and it was just a total ghost town," he says.

And the lack of tourist traffic during prime surfing time this winter has washed out his income.

"This year, if the slide hadn't happened, you know I think we would've been super busy," he says. "I can tell you that in sales we lost probably about $40,000, which is typically about half of my December sales."

There is a silver lining in the tourist beach town of Carpinteria, though, where Sal Lucido owns the clothing shop Island Outfitters on Linden.

"I had $0 day and a $49 day," he says, "but I gotta say it sprang back pretty strong."

Christmas came after the fires, and he said the community shopped like crazy to support local businesses like his.

And Lucido added something surprising about the recent connection between towns affected by the fires and mudslides.

"I'm having this unique bounce because Montecito is evacuated, and I'm getting Montecito people who've moved to [Carpinteria] temporarily and they didn't have time to get their clothes out," he says. "They're coming in and they're buying clothes because they don't have any."

The worries are still there for others along the coast, though.

Henry says he will start a GoFundMe page, soon, asking for donations from people to help keep his business alive until customers can come again.

Holcombe has a specific message to tourists: please come back.

"Hopefully people will support local businesses a little bit more, and eBay and Amazon a little bit less," he says.