This article was first published on December 21, 2008 and is a reminder that Valencia Street had rougher times.
In what many retailers on Valencia Street said is the worst holiday season they’ve experienced, furniture stores reported the greatest pain while thrift stores said they were benefiting from the more cautious spender. Only a store that sells pricey jeans reported an increase in sales.
“Honestly, I was not prepared for this,” said Wayne Wheam, owner of Therapy, which sells modern furniture such as vividly colored $2,000 sofas.Wheam said his sales are down 50 percent this December compared to the same period last year. Moreover, he added, the downturn has been worse than both the dot-com bust of the late 1990s and the period after 9/11.
Therapy, which opened in 1994 as a thrift shop and moved to retail after five years, usually begins sales after Christmas Day. This year, however, they marked 20 percent off starting Dec. 13. Still, sales continue to be slow. Wheam said buyers mostly want inexpensive items.
“I bought a bookshelf because I thought it was original and I’ve never seen something like this before,” said Cynthia McCape from Los Osos, who purchased an $11 metal bookshelf. “I’m being careful about what I buy.”
Wheam said he’s partly to blame for his store’s lackluster sales by failing to stock more inexpensive merchandise. “It’s tough for people to justify spending thousands of dollars on a sofa when they want to spend only $50 or $100,” he said. “We just have to work harder to find more value to our customers and more products moderately priced.”
David Chen, owner of The Touch, an antique and used furniture store at 956 Valencia Street, said he too has seen sales fall since October. So far in December, he said, sales are down 20 percent compared to the same period last year.
“We sell something that people don’t have to buy right now. They maybe wait for a month or some other time,” Chen said.
However, Chen was more relaxed than Whean because he doesn’t have a lot of inventory he needs to move.
“We’re not pushing up the sales promotion. That starts after Christmas Day,” Chen said. “But I’ll always give a discount if somebody finds a piece they really like, to sell as much as possible.”
For many of the Valencia corridor’s hip fashion stores, holiday sales have also been particularly poor.
“I’ve been in the fashion retail industry 12 years, but I’ve never seen something like this,” said Lisa Palella, a sales associate and stylist at Weston Wear. The store, which sells clothes designed by a San Francisco-based designer, also moved up its 20 percent off sale.
“This particular season is horrible. No one is shopping, “ said Dema Grim, designer and owner of Dema at 1038 Valencia Street.She said sales in the third quarter of this year were down 35 percent from the same quarter of last year.This has been her worst year since she started business 11 years ago.
“Cashmere socks make a great Christmas gift if you can only spend $30 dollars on somebody,” Grim said.
Bracing for the worst to come, Grim said she’ll use less expensive materials for next year’s designs. “No more silk, no more camel. I have to cut my margin,” she said. “But I’m not going to compromise the quality.”
Quality, some shoppers agreed, was still important. But they were willing to buy someone else’s cast-off quality merchandise.
Community Thrift, a nonprofit thrift store at 623 Valencia Street that carries everything from $1 T-shirts to $100 Manolo Blahnik shoes, reported a 5 percent increase in sales.
“Our businesses seems to be depression-proof so far,” said Zarin Kresge, executive director of Community Thrift.
Linda Khatami, a local shopper who had just scored a big discount on a pair of Stuart Weitzman shoes that generally sell for $400, offered her recession philosophy. “I don’t shop downtown anymore. I shop at the thrift store because the economy is so bad and I cannot afford to buy anything new anymore,” she said. “I actually think we have more fun if we go to a thrift store, because we don’t know what we’re going to discover.”
Other shoppers liked the prospect of some of their money going toward charity. “It’s great. You can get the good deal. At the same time we can help people,” said Phyllis Wong, who shops at Community Thrift every couple weeks. “This economy makes me think twice about waste.”