Garberville business owners appeared before the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to “sound the alarm” over a precipitous decline in revenues, a drop they attributed to existential struggles in the region’s renowned cannabis industry.
“I personally have seen a 40 percent drop in sales year-to-date,” said Jolan Banyasz, owner of Garberville clothing store Sweet Grass Boutique. “This last month, September, I saw a 60 percent decrease in sales. I cannot operate at these losses.”
Banyasz recently had to let go a seven-year employee who has since been unable to find another job in the area.
“Across the board, every single business is not really hiring because nobody is thriving,” she said. Banyasz added that she’s heard from other local business owners who are hanging on by a thread, paying bills out of their savings.
She was followed at the podium by Charlotte Silverstein, who has owned and operated the Garberville bead store Garden of Beadin’ for the past 38 years. Silverstein said that mail-order transactions are keeping her business alive, but her revenues are still down 20 percent this year and the whole town is suffering.
“I’ve moved recently and so I’m on street level, and people say, ‘How do you like your new spot?’ Well,” she said, “I love the spot, but then I get to see what goes on in Garberville, which is a lot of vagrants and a lot of poor people. I feel like for years since legalization, before the supervisors made the price of permits so expensive, it put a lot of people into into bankruptcy. So now everybody’s either leaving or they’re broke.”
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell said she agrees with the women who spoke and sympathizes as a fellow Garberville business owner.
“I own the largest clothing store down there,” she said, referring to The Bootleg, “and my business, for eight months, has been in a decline.” Sales have dropped by about 45 percent she said, the worst decline in the business’s 41-year history.
Bushnell bought the business in 2011, and she said the first time she noticed a big decline in sales was in 2016 and 2017, a period flanking the passage of Prop. 64, which legalized recreational cannabis. That caused a lot of anxiety among local growers, impacting the county’s economy.
“But then it bounced back,” Bushnell said. “[However], in the last eight months it’s been terrible. I normally employ seven full-time people. Right now I’ve had to cut down to two … plus [one who works] four hours on a Sunday.”
Both Banyasz and Silverstein mentioned the recent revelation from Pacific Gas and Electric that it has nearly reached the limits of its ability to transmit electricity across Southern Humboldt, with transmission lines and substations in need of some $900 million-worth of upgrades.
“[T]hat’s going to severely affect any development in our community, along with the issues that we have in the water districts with antiquated infrastructure,” Banyasz said.
Silverstein echoed those concerns. “You know, you guys are all happy with what’s happening up north in Arcata,” she said. “You got Cal Poly, but here in Southern Humboldt, we’re the place where people come to first and it’s gonna look like a ghost town. How are you going to help us support this and fix it?”
Bushnell said she has spoken about these issues with the county’s economic development director, Scott Adair, as well as County Administrative Officer Elishia Hayes.
“We need to bump up tourism,” she said. “Cannabis, it’s in the toilet. It’s terrible. There’s panic across the board. But we need curb appeal. We really need to sell [SoHum] as the gateway to Humboldt County.”
Standing at the podium on Tuesday, Banyasz told the board that she grew up in the community and would love to stay. But at the moment she doesn’t know if she’ll even be in business by the beginning of next year, and she fears that other storefronts will become empty, too, leaving the gateway to Humboldt County “barren.”
“I want to see it thriving,” she said. “I want to see our community members being able to support our businesses. I’m not seeing any economic opportunities now that the cannabis industry industry is collapsing.”
Bushnell said she plans to bring Adair down to speak with local business owners so at least they know the county is paying attention.
Below is video of Tuesday’s meeting queued up to time when Banyasz speaks. She’s followed by Silverstein.