Hansen: Sleepy Hollow is our past and future

Downtown Laguna Beach gets all the attention. North and South Laguna have cardinal directions. Midtown has a fancy marketing slogan. But what does Sleepy Hollow have?

Besides a legend.

The small strip of land just south of downtown between Legion and Cleo streets has something that is a necessity in today's climate of untenable rents, bad parking and stiff business regulations.

It has pluck, resolve, character, fortitude, bravery, humor, humility and a scrappy bootstrap mentality that is starting to turn this blurry stretch of misfits into a brighter destination.

"We need to wake up Sleepy Hollow," said Jerry Thompson, owner of AIR Laguna, which stands for "artists in recovery." The gallery features pieces by artists who battle addiction or sobriety.

Thompson opened in April, joining a handful of other new shops that have hung out their shingle within the last year.

The more established businesses along this section include Taco Loco, Laguna Tattoo, Cherry Moon and the still-empty Mosun building.

There was hope recently that Mosun would get a new tenant but the deal apparently fell through, according to local business owners. The city of Laguna still has an application on file for a new restaurant and lounge at the site, but there has been no activity for several months.

In addition to Mosun, the old Tippecanoe's remains empty but the rest of the street has filled in with new stores that have livened up the block.

While many of the new owners are eager to succeed, they admit it's been tough through the winter with few tourists.

As a group, they got together over the holidays to brainstorm on how to drum up business. They talked about setting out brightly colored planters or signs or maybe purchase some group advertising.

They invited other city and business leaders to give them advice.

Unfortunately, most of the ideas cost more money than they could afford.

Spirit Qin owns the new T-shirt shop Personalitees, which also opened in April.

"I know some businesses, including me, don't know how long we can survive," he said. "It costs money for new signs. At the same time, we have to deal with the city because they won't agree to certain things."

Despite the challenges, Qin is optimistic with summer around the corner. Like many businesses in town, they eagerly await the tourists.

And they know it can be worth the wait.

"I really like Laguna," Qin said. "It has its own character — arty and different, really original. It gives you something special."

That sense of distinction is part of the reason that Thompson, the gallery owner, is bringing in some Hollywood types.

Thompson is calling in a few favors to do a promotion in the first week of February involving the documentary film "Bill W.," which chronicles the life of the Alcoholics Anonymous cofounder.

The film's producer, Dan Carracino, a Laguna resident, is bringing in assorted photos and original artwork and will be on hand for a Q&A, along with other activities.

Other new stores round out the block, including RG Design Studio, Panache and Buy Hand, which has local handiwork including some fascinating plant art made from recycled Styrofoam. It looks amazingly real.

There are a few other areas of Laguna still like Sleepy Hollow — but not many. The canyon comes to mind, along with parts of midtown and perhaps small pockets in North and South Laguna. The rest is fairly well defined.

It's not that one area is better than the other. They all have their own identity.

But sometimes, areas are overshadowed.

Sometimes we forget to try new things.

The reality is Sleepy Hollow is what Laguna used to be.

And still is.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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