Queen’s Reign Coming to an End

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

January 19, 2024

Pam Woodruff, owner of Queen’s Closet in Morro Bay is closing her women’s clothing shop and retiring at the end of January. 

Photo by Neil Farrell

One of Morro Bay’s longest standing Downtown businesses is closing at the end of January, as the owner plans to sail off into retirement.

But readers shouldn’t fret too much, the location will stay filled under new management and feature new items, as well as leftover clothing from a closing sale going on now.

Pam Woodruff, owner of Queen’s Closet women’s clothing boutique at 315 Morro Bay Blvd., is walking away from the business she’s owned for the past decade. Queen’s Closet goes back much further, she says, taking a few moments to speak with a reporter. It’s been in business for over 29 years, she adds, and was first owned by two sisters for the first 19 of those years. 

“Back then it was just a plus-size store,” says Woodruff. “I opened it up to missy, petite and plus sizes.” That’s because while Morro Bay could be said to have a wide variety of retail stores — form gift shops to butcher shops — “It didn’t have a true women’s store that encompasses all sizes.”

The store has been on Morro Bay Boulevard for 18 years, Woodrusff says. The space, one of the more sizable little shop spaces in Downtown, was the town’s first department store before Queen’s Closet moved in. 

“Back in the day,” Woodruff recalls, “this store had everything — children’s, men’s and women’s clothing. I have customers who still remember that department store.”

Woodruff, who was heavily involved with the business community including through the Merchant’s Association (now disbanded), and understands the nuisances of trying to run a successful small business in this town. The recent pandemic caused a lot of damage.

“Since COVID,” she says, “its reduced the business by more than 50%. Luckily, I had a great landlord. COVID ruined a lot of industries, not just retail. Just look at the restaurants.” She adds that restaurants, once the backbone of the town’s tourism economy, are struggling to regain customers after having such a hard go of it during the pandemic response lockdowns and mass restrictions. 

Indeed, the State led the lockdowns push with small cities like Morro Bay simply enforcing the State mandates on the economy, part of the effort to stop the spread of the virus.

“It’s coming back,” she says of business, “but it takes time.”

She explains that she has people coming into the store who freely admit they had not gone “shopping” very much for three years because of COVID. “And I don’t blame them,” she says.

Queen’s Closet, as with many local shops, has loyal subjects. “I’ve had women customers tell me they bought three ‘mother-of-the-bride’ dresses from here,” Woodruff says. 

That’s the type of store Queen’s Closet has been for decades — some place where a woman can find a dress for those more elegant and more formal occasions, and accessories to go with the outfit.

“I’ve been part of the community a long time,” she reflects. 

The Downtown business climate is in a sort of flux, as several new businesses have opened on the Boulevard and Main Street over the past couple of years, but Woodruff says it hasn’t been easy.

“The cost of living has increased dramatically,” she says, “in all aspects of doing business.” She cites the recent garbage hike approved by the City Council. “Garbage is up to $70 a month,” Woodruff says. “And that’s for one can of garbage.” 

The price of wholesale goods and even things like delivery fees have all risen too. 

But it’s the most basic of business expenses — rent or lease payments — that have strained Downtown businesses the most. “[rich] People have been coming up here and buying up commercial properties and maximizing the rents,” Woodruff says. She clarifies her criticism to say that it’s mostly the property management companies that have been responsible for the sky-high rent increases. She was lucky to have avoided that pitfall.

“I was fortunate to have the landlord that I did,” she says. “It’s the same landlord for the past 25 years, which makes a big difference.”

She’s excited for the space’s next life, which will be as a home goods retail store. Two local women, who are also cousins, Stephane Slater and Becky Garcia, will open “Mariposa Exchange.” Slater says they will be doing some remodeling when they get the keys and hope the space isn’t closed for very long. They seem eager to get started.

Woodruff says she will still be open normal business hours through the end of January when the new shopkeepers will take over, and Woodruff sails away. 

She’s having a 50-percent off sale and hopes that long-time customers — friends really — will come by and visit. So what’s her next move?

“I want to travel,” she says, smiling because it seems that’s what every retiree plans to do. “I want to go visit friends on the East Coast.” 

Woodruff says while retirement will be a welcomed change, she is nostalgic over what’s been the major part of her life for so long. “I’ve enjoyed the people,” she says. “They were fulfilling. All the customers here have been amazing, more like friends. It makes me sad to leave. But I’m very excited for the new owners.”

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