Main Street, Seal Beach has long been a hub for small boutiques and unique shops. While online retailers and big box stores tend to dominate the market during the holiday season, locally owned and one-of-a-kind shops still thrive, thanks to loyal locals and tourists.
Surrounded by shelves of interactive toys, games, and art kits, Lisa McHenry gift-wraps and curls the ribbons on a recent sale. “There has definitely been a renewed effort to shop local,” says McHenry, owner of Knock-Knock Toys. “People want to give back to their communities, and local shops are a great way for people to do that. Plus, it’s really different stuff that you can’t find in just any store.” The unique collections of items in local stores generate a lot of appeal, and the small business set up allows for a very personal experience, connecting shoppers to owners as members of the larger community of Seal Beach.
Local shops that specialize in distinctive items or themes tend to attract long-term residents as well as tourists looking for a memento. “We get a good amount of locals, but we also get a lot of international people, too,” says Skyler Wootten of the SB Shoppe. Charlotte Lopez of the SB Shoppe described the benefit of having a strong local following. “ People know the store, they know the people there. They generally know what they’re looking for when they come in, and being a specialty store definitely helps.” The beach-town feel of Main Street adds to its appeal, especially for visiting relatives and tourists.
Because boutique-type stores do not always have online venues, online retail has a major impact on these small businesses. Many shoppers move online for convenience and better prices, which can make it difficult for small shops to keep up. “Most of the time people will come in and ask about price matching. Or, if we don’t have something in stock, people will just go online instead,” says Aaron Perez of Main Street Cyclery. “Having a social media platform is definitely helpful in getting the word out, too.”
The weather can also have an impact on the success of small businesses. “Cycling is seasonal. If it’s raining, people aren’t out cycling,” says Perez. Wet weather, which can strike unexpectedly in the winter months, keeps people indoors and away from the waterfront. “Even if people want to shop local, they don’t want to shop and walk in the rain,” says Kailyn Weber of Unaffected Boutique. “Rainy weekends can be just as quiet as weekdays.” Though Seal Beach is almost invariably temperate and pleasant, unexpected rain and cold can slow business, deterring even the most loyal customers.
However, last minute holiday shopping comes back to boost Main Street’s sales. The distinctive shops of Main Street are popular with people searching for the perfect gift.
“You can find a lot of things people wouldn’t think to ask for. Mom and Dad get their kids what they ask for on Santa’s lap, but aunts and uncles and grandparents can get them something they’ll hold onto for a while and that they can’t find duplicated in any big store,” says McHenry. “It makes it meaningful.”
Though the rise of online retailers and unpredictable weather can put pressures on small local businesses, the holiday season on Main Street is still successful and local boutiques continue to survive and grow.