CITYWIDE — The Continental Shop, which sells all things British like teas, candy and puddings, settled at its Wilshire Boulevard location after closing up shop at the Ambassador Hotel in the late 1980s.
Owner Michael Clewer, whose father emigrated from Britain in the ‘60s, said business was good at the Ambassador for many years, but the number of expats staying there began to dwindle.
The same can be said of the British population in Santa Monica, dubbed “Little Britain.”
In 2000, there were 1,171 British people living in the city by the sea, but in 2011 there were 807, according to the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.
One reason for the drop, some British expats say, may be the high cost of living and more blokes and birds looking elsewhere to rent. For example, the Tudor House, the British tea room and restaurant, closed its doors last summer because the owners said it had gotten too expensive, according to reports.
Clewer said some of the older Brits are moving back to their homeland because their spouses passed away.
Lynne Kerr, day manager at Ye Olde King’s Head bar and restaurant, has lived in Santa Monica for 19 years, moving to the area for the weather. She said she’s had a few friends move to Valencia near Santa Clarita.
“In the King’s Head, we have such a good industry with the tourism, but a lot of people may have moved out of town to buy housing,” she said. “Rentals are so expensive here. It’s a lot more expensive now to rent a place.”
Those lucky enough to have found an apartment in the ‘70s or ‘80s paid rents that were more affordable and have been able to remain there thanks to rent control, which caps annual rent increases. However, as those in rent controlled-apartments move out, landlords have been able to raise rents to market rate, which in Santa Monica can mean as much as $3,500 for a one-bedroom apartment in Downtown.
Santa Monica has seen its share of British expats who visit and eventually settle here. Britt Allcroft, creator of television series “Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends,” “Magic Adventures of Mumfie” and “Shining Time Station,” moved to Santa Monica in 1998 because it reminded her of her hometown of Worthing in Southeast England. She initially fell in love with Santa Monica in 1995 when she came for film work.
“It had a pier and a beach and the water and the ocean and all that. And it wasn’t as developed as it is now,” she said. “I remember when I first moved here somebody said to me ‘there are a quarter million Brits in this town.’ I said ‘what?’ I had no idea at all. Then I came across the King’s Head, and just came across folks who were from Britain.”
British folks come in second when it comes to tourists, after Australians and Kiwis combined, Misti Kerns, president and CEO of the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau, said.
“It has been in the top five for quite some time — for years and years. It’s always been a very, very strong market for us,” Kerns said. “I think it will continue.”
She said it’s unfortunate if the numbers are reflecting a decline in the British residents who live in Santa Monica.
“Our visitation hasn’t dipped for that community,” she said. “The weather, comparably, here is fabulous.”
Clewer said he’s seen younger Brits move into the five to six blocks near his Wilshire Boulevard store.
“New customers come in for the Cadburys and the McVities [biscuits],” he said. “Over the years I’ve seen a lot of younger ones who are not able to find work over here move back, but then they show up over here again two years later. It was worse over there; they couldn’t find any work.”
Ironically, Clewer, who was born in Pasadena, said he may consider retiring in Britain.