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Shopping for Answers

By Jorge Casuso

June 29, 2009 -- The Third Street Promenade is not only an international destination, it is also the most popular spot for Santa Monica residents, with nearly nine in every 10 paying a visit to the strip over the past three months.

What’s more, three-quarters of Santa Monicans are making a conscious effort to support local businesses, according to a recent survey by the City of 462 people who live, work and go to school in the beachside city.

The survey – conducted last month at the Santa Monica Festival in Clover Park – gives Bayside and City officials a glimpse of the buying habits of area residents, and so far, they like what they see.

“I think there’s a growing awareness of supporting local businesses and trying to stay local,” said Jennifer Taylor, senior administrative analyst for the City’s Economic Development Division.

“We’re an environmentally-friendly community,” said Debbie Lee, marketing director for the Bayside District Corporation. “People have a high awareness of how their habits impact the environment. It’s really rewarding to learn that they’re thinking about the economic impact sustainable practices have.”

Lee, who was a driving force behind the City’s Buy Local campaign initially launched by BDC, was pleased to see that 87 percent of the respondents had visited the Promenade over the past three months. The findings contradict a perception that the Promenade is mainly a tourist destination.

“We’ve worked really hard to sustain the Promenade as a community space,” said Lee, who was vice president of the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau before coming to Bayside. “It is a public street. There is a perception that it’s inaccessible, but it’s easy to get here.”

Lee said it is important that residents and employees can count on Downtown as a resource. “A lot of its success has to do with all the elements that help make up Downtown. It’s this beautiful mix of different sectors that rely on each other to survive.”

Still, more can be done to encourage shoppers to buy local, City and Bayside officials said. The survey found that 50 percent of the respondents shop “elsewhere” because it’s hard to find parking near Santa Monica shopping strips.

“The results from the survey will be invaluable to identify major obstacles for people to park here,” Taylor said. “We need to raise awareness there is good quality, low-cost parking.”

The survey also found that nearly two-thirds of the respondents believe that prices in Santa Monica are too high, while 55 percent said there is not enough variety to choose from.

“We don’t have a lot of the larger convenience stores within our city borders,” Lee said.

Some local shoppers, said Taylor, are “forced to go out of the city to places like Costco and Target because their income has gone down.”

In fact, the steep economic downturn is forcing Santa Monica shoppers to change their buying and lifestyle habits, with some unexpectedly positive results, according to the survey.

“Most people who said they changed their habits were buying local, riding bikes, walking, spending less and buying more often,” Taylor said. “It’s encouraging to see that while people are cutting back, that might mean that they’re not spending more on gas and are biking and walking.”

Far from being a simply academic exercise, the survey provides a wealth of valuable data that can be mined by business owners and government agencies to help boost business, City and Bayside officials said.

One surprising finding, for instance, was that Bob’s market was most often mentioned as a favorite place to shop. While part of the explanation may be that many of those surveyed at Clover Park lived near the Sunset Park market, valuable lessons can be drawn from the choice, officials said.

“If you’re loyal to your customers, your customers are loyal,” Taylor said. “Successful businesses say loyal customers and a resident base are the only reasons they’ve been able to weather the economic downturn.”

Bayside and City officials hope to take the survey to other areas of the city. This month, visitors to the Summer SOULstice Festival on Main Street will be polled, followed by visitors to the Farmers Markets and Montana Avenue.

“We’re hoping to get feedback from customers, particularly when they say they shop outside Santa Monica because there are products they can’t buy in Santa Monica,” Taylor said.

“We want to give the list to businesses. Here’s a great opportunity to add things to your business to add new customers. These are pretty straightforward measures. The City is looking for ways to support local business and ensure that the local economy remains vibrant and that businesses continue to be viable.”

“There’s a lot you can cultivate from the study,” Lee said. “It’s a great benchmark, so a year from now, we can revisit it.”

“People have a high awareness of how their habits impact the environment." Debbie Lee


“Most people who said they changed their habits were buying local, riding bikes, walking, spending less and buying more often.” Jennifer Taylor

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