IT’S THE END OF AN ERA.
The Tudor House, Santa Monica’s landmark British import store, bakery, gift shop and tea room that has been serving the local expat community for 50 years, is closing its doors on July 1st.
Owners Steve and Teresa Dulley announced the sad news this week, but said that the writing had been on the wall for several years due both to the depth and duration of the economic downturn and a change in the demographics of the local community.
Teresa told the British Weekly: “We’re very sad to be closing and we’ve had countless customers telling us that the Tudor House is an institution and how sad it is that yet another small independent place has to close.
“Our recent Mother’s Day tea was one of the busiest in memory. A lot of people just want to come in and say goodbye and how much they’ll miss us, which is very touching.”
The gentrification that has transformed downtown Santa Monica over the past 15 years has made the city’s retailing and entertainment district a magnet for the entire region. But the flipside for local residents is rising rents – which has brought something of a British exodus. According to the Census Bureau, in 1969 4.7% of Santa Monica residents – or 3,923 people – were British. By 2000, the number had fallen to 1,807 British immigrants, or 2.1% of the city’s population.
Add to this the high costs resulting from stringent health codes, large shipping fees and the pound’s strength against the dollar and you have a tough business environment for a British import shop. The lingering recession proved the final straw.
“There are somecustomers who we only see once a year telling us how much they’ll miss us,” said Teresa. “That’s great to hear but we can’t run a business on people coming in so rarely….but we don’t blame anybody. We know that many people have been affected by the recession, especially older people on fixed incomes and those customers just haven’t been replaced by new ones.
“We’ve tried as hard as we can to make the numbers work over the past few years but it’s just not possible.”
The Tudor House story began in 1962 when Mancunian Alan Crump, who is now in his mid-80s and still lives in Westchester, opened the store next to the famed Mucky Duck pub because he missed his favorite English comfort foods, including pickled onions, English jam and OXO gravy. The rent? $100 a month.
Alan ran the store for twenty years, selling to Jan and Harry Ingram in 1982, who added a travel business selling transatlantic flights to homesick Britons to boost revenue. In those days the store was located next to the old Continental Shop at 411 Santa Monica Boulevard.
The Dulleys, who came to Southern California in the early 1970s and married in 1974, took over in 1999, and two years later came 9/11, an event which continues to keep import costs high even today. Ever since that attack, the Tudor House had to pay large distributors to bring their products into the U.S. since post-9/11 buyer hazard laws made direct shipping nearly impossible for small businesses.
The regulations, which Teresa called “very fussy,” require each imported item to be checked and approved by manufacturers, U.S. Customs and the Food and Drug Administration and then assigned a tracking number. FDA inspectors have come into the shop on occasion to remove products that accidentally slipped through, such as some items that include food dye or meat, Dulley said.
The Tudor House feels very much like a family operation, with just a handful of employees making and selling items such as hot cross buns at Easter, mince pies for Christmas, and their wonderful sausage rolls and meat pies all year round. Once of them is Teresa’s American-born son, Brendan, 24. The couple’s three other children have also worked at the store.
Two responses to the news on the British Weekly’s Facebook page are typical of the community’s reaction: Honesty Blaize wrote: “I am really deeply saddened. I’ve been going to the Tudor House since you were in your last location, decades ago. I’ve taken friends and family there and always stop by when I’m on that side of the hill. No one can beat your deli.” While a longtime Santa Monica resident opined: “Nooooo! I loved having tea there every Xmas with my friend.”
The Tudor house is located at 1403 Second Street in Santa Monica. Tel: 310 451 4107.