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Counting Their Losses
updated: Mar 17, 2017, 8:00 AM

By Melinda Burns

María Pérez, 85, stood behind the counter at her clothing store on Milpas Street on a recent weekend, as she has for 35 years, and waited for customers who did not come.

“See how quiet it is?” she said. “Lots of working people came before to get a pair of boots or a pair of socks, but not anymore. They’re very afraid.”

Business has plummeted since the election of President Donald J. Trump at mom-and-pop stores serving the heavily Latino neighborhoods of Santa Barbara’s Eastside and Westside. María Pérez, the owner of a clothing store on Milpas Street, says her clients don’t come in because “they’re very afraid.”
Photo by Melinda Burns.

A few doors down, Lucy Zamudio, the owner of Lucy’s Boutique, said sales had dropped by more than half since the November election, along with party rentals. No one is throwing parties anymore, she said. Zamudio said she had laid off an employee and was not sure how much longer she could keep her store open.

Lucy Zamudio, owner of Lucy’s Boutique
on Milpas Street, has lost more than half her
clientele and doesn't know how much longer
she can stay open. “People are afraid to spend
the little they have because they don’t know
what awaits them,” Zamudio said.
Photo by Melinda Burns.

“People are afraid to spend the little they have because they don’t know what awaits them,” Zamudio said. “It’s so sad. I never imagined there would be so much racism in this country.”

Business is sharply down at Latino-owned mom-and-pops on the South Coast – hair salons, auto shops, restaurants, clothing stores with Mexican imports, jewelry stores, herbal pharmacies, travel agencies, income tax services and even arts and crafts stalls. Their owners place the blame squarely on President Donald J. Trump and his efforts to speed up and expand the deportation of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

“This man scares everybody,” said Pérez, a Bernie Sanders supporter who owns the building where her store, Centro Musical, is located. “He’s not my President. He’s a devil and a crazy man. I love this country because it gave me the opportunity to study, to learn, to work and to be free. This man is destroying everything.”

In heavily Latino neighborhoods throughout the South Coast, and especially on Santa Barbara’s Eastside and Westside, a number of business owners are in shock, having lost half their clientele or more in the space of a few months.

Some of their customers are afraid to leave their homes, whether walking or driving, the owners say. Others venture out to shop after dark. Many are saving their money in case they are deported. And it’s not only the undocumented who are fearful.

“Some people don’t want to go out on the street because they’re afraid they’ll be questioned, whether they’re legal or not,” said Raúl Gil, owner of the El Zarape restaurant on San Andres Street and a director of the Santa Barbara Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “And if they do go out, they’re watching to see who’s on the street and what cars are passing by.”

About one in 10 residents of Santa Barbara County is undocumented – the same ratio as in Los Angeles County, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by CAUSE, an immigrant rights group on the Central Coast.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has said it doesn’t conduct sweeps, checkpoints or raids that “target aliens indiscriminately.” Around Feb. 6, during one of its periodic enforcement operations targeting immigrants who are deemed “public safety threats,” agents arrested five North County residents out of 680 across the country. Nationwide, their offenses ranged from domestic violence and sexual assault to drunk driving and returning to the U.S. after being deported.

The Santa Barbara Police Department and county Sheriff’s Department have repeatedly said they will not turn over undocumented residents to immigration agents unless they pose a serious threat to public safety. To help quell rumors, CAUSE is urging immigrants to text ALERT to 24587 for reliable information on ICE actions in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Immigration Hope and IMPORTA, local advocacy groups, are offering free weekly workshops in Santa Barbara to educate residents about their rights and help them prepare a family plan in case of deportation. The next workshop is at the Franklin Elementary School cafeteria from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Latino mom-and-pop store owners say they are regularly fielding calls from customers, asking if they have seen a white ICE van in the vicinity.

“Just thinking about all this makes me nervous, and I was born here,” said Marisol Jacinto, the owner of Jami’s Hair Studio around the corner from El Zarape on Santa Barbara’s Westside. Jacinto said she was working more hours daily in case a client walked in. She was keeping her six-year-old daughter with her instead of going home together. Only a couple of months ago, Jacinto said, she had 10 clients per day, and now she’s lucky if four show up.

The Milpas Street office of Armando Vargas, an income tax preparer, sits empty in what should be his busiest month. “Nobody wins. We all lose,” Vargas says of President Trump’s efforts to speed the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
Photo by Melinda Burns

On Milpas, the downtown of Santa Barbara’s Eastside, Armando Vargas, an income tax preparer and insurance broker, doesn’t know how long he can keep paying his $1,500 monthly rent or his assistant’s wages with so few customers. This is the time of year when he usually helps 100 clients per week with their tax forms, Vargas said, yet only 40 are coming in. Most of his clients are undocumented, he said, but they are required to pay taxes under an identification number issued to them by the Internal Revenue Service. Have they gone into hiding? Vargas has no idea.

“Look, there’s nobody, when generally there are a lot of people,” he said, gesturing at the rows of empty chairs. “We have seen incredible losses that we haven’t seen in other years, and we’re just at the beginning of all this. It’s affecting legal and non-legal residents and even citizens. Nobody wins. We all lose.”

Down the street at Alvarez Automotive Repair & Smog, Gaspar Alvarez said he has lost 30 percent of his customers because they were reluctant to spend hundreds of dollars on car repairs right now.

“I don’t approve of hardly anything our President is doing,” Alvarez said. “I don’t think he’s all there. He’s not capable of handling our nation.”

Gaspar Alvarez, the owner of Alvarez Automotive Repair & Smog on Milpas Street, has lost 30 percent of his customers since the November election. “I don’t approve of hardly anything our President is doing,” he said.
Photo by Melinda Burns

At Kuki’s Beauty Salon on Milpas, Kuki Cárdenas said half her customers had disappeared. The salon is open until 7 p.m., and a few are coming at twilight because they feel safer in the dark, Cárdenas said. The salon used to be a popular place for friends and neighbors to hang out and chat, but no more, she said.

Across the street at Omar’s Travel, owner Juan Morales Mancebo said that even some of his customers who are legal U.S. residents with green cards are afraid to fly within the U.S. Irrational as it may sound, he said, they fear their green cards will be cancelled at the airport.

“It’s a reign of terror people are feeling,” Morales said. “It’s very sad, what we’re going through.”

Julio López, the owner of Julio’s Business Services on Milpas, said he had recently notarized power of attorney forms for 10 customers, undocumented parents who wanted to name a friend or family member to take care of their children, who are American citizens, should they be deported. López said his income tax preparation business was suffering. He was proud to be a citizen of this country, he said, showing his business card with the American flag on it. But Trump’s policies, López said, are “an abuse of power.”

On Thursday afternoons in Carpinteria, Elena Hernández has watched the arts-and-crafts stalls next to the Farmers Market vanish one by one as business has dwindled. Normally, Hernández said, her stall with piles of hand-embroidered, smocked and crocheted dresses is a mecca for mothers and daughters of all ages. Some still come by to admire her handiwork, she said, but sales have plummeted from as much as $300 in a single afternoon a few months ago to $40 now.

Elena Hernández’ sales of her hand-embroidered
and smocked children’s clothes have dropped
from as much as $300 to $40 on Thursday afternoons
next to the Farmers Market in Carpinteria.
Photo by Melinda Burns

“Hispanic families are not buying,” said Hernández, who used to have a store in Santa Barbara, and before that, cleaned houses for 18 years. “It happened like magic after the election. It’s affecting them, and it’s affecting me.”

On a recent Thursday, a pregnant woman and her mother approached Hernández’ stall and exclaimed over the tiny dresses, each fancifully embroidered with ducks or bees or whales, and each with bloomers and a headband. The young woman lovingly fingered a $25 salmon-colored set and said, “I think I would like this one.” But her mother intervened.

“No, my daughter,” she said. “Not with all that’s happening right now.”

In Santa Barbara, one Latina store owner, a former nursing assistant, declined to give her name and requested that her business remain anonymous, saying that she and most of her customers were undocumented. She said sales had dropped from $400 per day a couple of months ago to $55 per day now.

“Donald Trump is selling out this country,” the owner said. “He’s treating us like criminals. We don’t deserve this. We shouldn’t hold marches, we should stop paying taxes for a year.”

During many years working with elderly patients in Santa Barbara, she said, “What I learned is that when you are near death, we are all the same. I swear, the person who closes Donald Trump’s eyes is going to be a Mexican.”

Melinda Burns is a long-time Santa Barbara journalist.


Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 763990 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 08:41 AM

Great article, Melinda! We need more solid journalism like this in our community. If we still had a reputable daily newspaper, this quality of reportage would be routine, not a all too rare breath of fresh air.


 COMMENT 763993 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 08:49 AM

Article is exaggerating reality. Poor journalism. SB is a safe and profitable place for immigrants documented or not. I frequent many Latino businesses and they are as busy as ever thankfully. Fake news like this only inspires more fear. Sad!


 COMMENT 763994 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 08:53 AM

It's time to start really patronizing these businesses. Next stop for me is El Zarape.


 COMMENT 764006 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 09:27 AM

The backlash against illegal immigration is not about race or origin, its about following the rule of law. Every 3rd grader knows that cheating is bad. So why is it OK for some people to cheat? Be grateful for what the USA brings to the world and to yourself and respect its laws. That's not a racial or cultural or ethnic issue. Its about regard, respect and ultimately about living within the law set forth in the nation that grants you the opportunities you seek.

I personally know no one who is against immigration. I do know a lot of people who feel cheated by people who break the law for their own financial benefit. It is very simple. Play by the rules or face the consequences of your choices and your actions.


 COMMENT 764008 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 09:31 AM

Interesting. Looks like the result of basing your emotional well-being on edited sound bites.


 COMMENT 764015 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 09:43 AM

Being an undocumented immigrant is a life choice that has consequences


 COMMENT 764024 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 09:59 AM

Afraid to comment on this, it's like a booby trap. Not taking the bait.


 COMMENT 764027 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 10:03 AM

Total BS article.


 COMMENT 764028 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 10:06 AM

The arrogance and entitlement of the illegal immigrants and the media elites is why we have Trump.


 COMMENT 764034 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 10:15 AM

" A breath of fresh air" ? I find it suffocating and the enormity of the whole situation difficult to comprehend.


 KINGSFAN agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 10:36 AM

Another great piece Melinda.
I feel for the small businesses and the artists. Agreed Trump is horrible, but I believe that when you choose not to be legalized and be a citizen of this great country you are breaking the law and will always be. Get legalized and stop running from the law. Then go shopping without fear of getting deported.


 COMMENT 764043 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 10:37 AM

You know, why not become an American citizen and then you don't have to worry.
The culture south of the border is just as paranoid and superstitious as ever.
Take the path to citizenship instead of cheating.
Just because they have gotten away with it for so long doesn't make them legal.
Do the right thing and people may come to your business again.
If those bus. are only being shopped by illegals than it is time for them to get on board or quit.


 COMMENT 764044 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 10:38 AM

The new Underground Railroad is being built as we read this post.


 COMMENT 764048P agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 10:44 AM

"Getting legalized" is not always a choice. And waiting to flee a dangerous country while the process progresses is often not the choice that is made. How can we blame people who are looking for a better and safer life? That is exactly why the majority of Americans are here.


 COMMENT 764050 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 10:47 AM



 COMMENT 764053 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 10:53 AM

This is sad for sure but people should come here legally.
Hard working folks who are here legally have enough trouble making ends meet in this economy without competition from those who really should not be here. A country without borders is not a country.


 COMMENT 764054 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 10:53 AM

Maybe if you had products that were geared toward a wider audience you wouldn't have this problem. Most of these businesses are directly targeted to only illegal immigrant population.


 COMMENT 764058 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 11:08 AM

Myself and my family are trying to go to as many Latinx-owned stores for our regular purchases as possible, especially the smaller ones that are mom-and-pop owned and run. They need our patronage more than ever.

And I disagree that they should cater to the non-latinx crowd. I love all of the grocers and apothecaries and bakeries and shops and restaurants in this town that cater to that side of our community.

Remember, for a long time this town WAS part of Mexico. It's part of all of our culture. Rejoice and embrace the fact that living here you're part of Alta California


 COMMENT 764059 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 11:08 AM

And I thought the Trump pinatas were selling like hotcakes.


 COMMENT 764064 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 11:14 AM

Quick history lesson: part of California was part of Mexico for about 25 years. California has been a part of the US since 1846 or about 170 years.


 COMMENT 764072 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 11:25 AM

058- Couldn't agree with you more.
054- You guys don't mind buying those products, when you are "Viva'ing La Fiesta" for a week, and slamming back margaritas on Cinco De Mayo!


 COMMENT 764077 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 01:13 PM

The owners portrayed here cater to Mexican immigrants. When everyone was looking the other way at illegal immigration, they had a niche to serve. If your clientele is limited to one demographic that feels they can't spend freely, you're going to suffer. Many Latino-owned businesses that cater to wider demographics are doing well. There's also the problem of an outdated business model. You can buy insurance, prep your taxes, buy airline tickets, and clothing all off the internet on your smartphone. It's kind of like being in the buggy whip business when automobiles hit the market, or renting video tapes. Disruption is the norm nowadays. Adapt or die. Interesting too that this same group vehemently opposed creating a business district a couple years back that could have helped draw new customers to them. I guess, like Trump, just because you have a business doesn't automatically mean you're a great business person.


 COMMENT 764090 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 01:42 PM

The more comments I read, the more I realize that Santa Barbara city gov needs to be COMPLETELY replaced.


 CHACHA agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 03:58 PM

Trump is blowing up the economy and damaging the American brand--multibillion dollar loss for US travel and tourism because people don't want to spend their money here when they have friendlier options around the world. Yeah, the market is on the rise, but it's a bubble, his protectionist and isolationist approach will be a continuing problem and his military spending will not be supportable. Good job, Trumpies.


 COMMENT 764191P agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 07:27 PM

i commented a few weeks back that American tourism is going to pay a terrible price for Trumpism. I will say it again: Go overseas now and the USA is not seen in a favorable light. Santa Barbara or anywhere else will soon see fewer international tourists. Chinese tourism is enormous. They are the #1 tourist group coming to California. They will go other places. They want to learn English. They will go elsewhere.


 LUCKY_777 agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-17 11:03 PM

If 10% of the residents of this county are here illegally, well, having them removed would go a nice distance towards reducing overpopulation and the drain on social services by those who take more in benefits than they contribute in taxes. Audios.


 COMMENT 764270P agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-18 08:34 AM

The nanny is obviously overly sensitive. There is no reason for any of these comments to be nannied out (except this one).

If this is going to be a serious discussion then all opinions need to be heard.


 RESIDENT agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-18 09:25 AM

It is very telling that a large number of people blame the guy that wants to follow and enforce the law but don't blame those that are breaking the law.


 ROGER DODGER agree helpful negative off topic

2017-03-18 03:31 PM

Not everyone who supposedly follows and enforces the law abides by it, why would others be expected to?


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