Tracy Porter opens in La Arcada Mall

Tracy Porter, a business that’s described as a lifestyle brand by its eponymous founder, has inked a five-year contract to open a new retail store at 1100 State St. The company, which has sold its product line through its catalog, online site and through licensing with stores nationwide, has racked up sales in excess of $300 million over the last 10 years, said a member of the commercial real estate team that represented Tracy Porter in the lease at the La Arcada Mall.

The deal is also seen as a harbinger of improving retail fortunes along one of Santa Barbara’s premier commercial zones. There have been 26 retail leases in 2010 on State Street downtown, a 44 percent increase compared to the same period in 2009.

We are definitely seeing more leasing activity downtown, and Tracy Porter’s move is evidence of that, said Kristopher Roth of the Hayes Commercial Group. Good quality spaces are receiving multiple offers and the market is more robust than a year ago.

Notable recent commercial deals include outdoor sports retailer REI, which will occupy space on the 300 block of State, and plans a fall 2011 opening.

Tracy Porter will occupy a site previously occupied by Blue Bee Luxury, which closed about eight months ago. After very minimal tenant improvements, the store should open by October in time for the peak holiday shopping season, said Michael Martz, also of the Hayes Commercial Group.

They’re a real nice couple with four young sons, said Mr. Martz, speaking about Ms. Porter and her husband, John. They wanted to relocate to a small sophisticated city to live and launch a bricks-and-mortar presence. They’re essentially artists who leveraged their art into being creative with different types of products. The attractive Ms. Porter also serves as cover girl on all marketing ral and blogs frequently,

The South Coast’s demographics of high-income locals and free-spending tourists are factors that the couple also considered in moving its corporate headquarters to California. They are super hands-on, said Mr. Martz. They aren’t looking at opening a store every year and sitting on the sidelines.

The family-oriented nature of the business struck a responsive chord with Marge Petersen, the owner of La Arcada. She likes to find tenants she feels personally comfortable with and are a good fit with other tenants, including top restaurants, galleries and other retailers, said Mr. Martz of the discerning landlord. Tracy Porter is a designer, entrepreneur, retailer, importer and licensor with over 2,500 products in the market. In an interview with trade magazine Enchanted Living, the Porters said the business is tailored to women ages 35 to 55, fairly high wage-earners who had children later in life.

We design things for home we design things for her, said Ms. Porter.

Distilled down to its simplest form, we make pretty things.

The Porters started their first business, Stonehouse Farm Goods, in 1992 as a hand-painted furniture and accessories manufacturer and wholesaler from a chicken coop on their 21-acre farm in Princeton, Wisconsin.

In the early days, products were sold to and through upper- end retailers like Barney’s, Hendi Bendel, Neiman Marcus and Saks.

The company’s growth suggests similarities to the business empire based on hearth and home founded by lifestyle maven Martha Stewart.

In 1996, Tracy Porter Inc. was formed to license proprietary designs to manufacturers of various other products, including rugs, pillows, dinnerware, lighting. home dècor and home furnishings. Also in 1996, the Porters opened their first store in Princeton catering to an affluent tourist market.

To build on growing awareness, Tracy Porter established a direct-to-consumer division in 2005 with the launch of ecommerce via selling branded licensed and complementary products. In 2007, mail-order catalogs were introduced to drive traffic and expand the customer base.

Tracy Porter Inc. has 15 employees and John and Tracy Porter own 100 percent of the company.

Joining the couple in Santa Barbara will be Tracy’s sister, Robyn, who managed their previous store and has agreed to become store manager (she and her husband are also moving to the Santa Barbara area).