Downtown Solvang sees big President’s Day tourist turnout despite high gas prices

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On Monday, many people took advantage of the long President’s Day weekend to hop in their cars and explore Solvang, despite recent increases in gas prices.

The average cost of a gallon of regular gas in Santa Barbara County has spiked nearly $.30 since this time last month.

In December, KSBY News reported about the dwindling gas prices at select stations off Highway 246 on the way to Solvang that fell below $4 just days before Christmas. Three months later, those prices are up more than half a dollar.

“It is really expensive here, more expensive than Canada for gas prices. We didn’t believe it when we saw $4 and some cents a gallon,” said Ronald Johnson, who was spending the week in Solvang with his wife, Verna.

“It has fluctuated, but it doesn’t deter us from going places,” added Terry Lassiter who was visiting from San Luis Obispo on Monday.

Rene Kaerskov, the owner of Solvang’s newest Danish bakery, says the President’s Day turnout at his business has already been more than 40% of what he anticipated.

“We are happy to have people come and enjoy the Danish experience of Solvang, but it is also good to see that despite the bad economic news we hear on television and radio, that people actually travel a little bit and enjoy themselves,” he said.

Though Kaerskov says his business hasn’t been directly impacted by rising fuel costs, he says inflated prices for flour, eggs and international shipments to his bakery have all gone up significantly. He adds that the fluctuating cost of gas creates another burden for his clientele.

“It absolutely impacts our customers because it is more expensive to drive to Solvang,” Kaerskov said.

Regardless, those spending their President’s Day in Solvang said they were happy to spend a little extra on gas to check out the town and support local businesses.

“The gas prices, the weather, the rain that we have had — it is really important for all businesses, that have been closed especially, to have tourists and people come to visit,” Lassiter said.

“You feel for businesses that suffered through the COVID pandemic, so I am sure that this helps them greatly,” Verna Johnson added.

Experts say the recent increases are partly due to the fact that several West Coast refineries are undergoing maintenance amid a transition to a more expensive summer blend of fuel. AAA spokesperson Doug Shupe adds that he does not expect those prices will go down anytime soon.

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