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Tourist-dependent Solvang struggles through coronavirus stay-home orders in California

Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Travel News

SOLVANG, Calif. -- With his wire-rim glasses, burly build and shock of alabaster hair tucked into a bike helmet, Chuck Stacy looked a little like Santa Claus on vacation as he pedaled through Solvang's quaint business district last week.

He was leisurely riding down the center of an empty street in this California tourist haven that would be clogged with traffic under normal circumstances.

But these aren't normal times.

With much of the country under stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus the Danish-settled village, whose windmills and half-timbered architecture draws more than 1 1/2 million visitors a year, is a virtual ghost town.

"I've never seen it like this," said Stacy, a retired Episcopal preacher who has spent 53 of his 72 years in Solvang.

A couple of blocks away Thomas Birkholm keeps his Danish bakery going by preparing takeout orders with a staff made up largely of family after laying off 16 employees.

 

"Every day it's like Christmas morning coming in here," Birkholm said. "The streets are empty and everything's closed."

This is the equivalent of an economic earthquake for this tiny town of nearly 6,000 people nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley wine country, about a half hour north of Santa Barbara. Tourists are the engine of an economy than generates nearly $200 million in activity a year. Hundreds in Solvang and the surrounding bedroom communities have already lost their jobs while the city is losing $500,000 in tax revenue a month.

"That's a lot of money to a town this size," said Andrew Moore, whose wine-tasting room has shut down. "It's a lot of money to a town of any size."

On a typical spring weekend just a handful of the city's 847 hotel rooms would be empty and the lines to get into the wine-tasting rooms and restaurants would be long. This past weekend just a handful of the city's hotels were even open and the longest line was outside Bethania Lutheran Church, where people queued up for food donations.

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