Like any good tourist town, Laguna Beach has maps — lots of them.
They litter every coffee shop, hotel lobby and corner business. But behind the slick trifolds is a fickle and driven local advertising industry that will try just about anything to stand out.
Enter the HIP district of Laguna. Did you even know there was a HIP district of Laguna?
Chances are, no.
Launched about three years ago, it's largely the brainchild of Joe Hanauer, a real estate veteran who owns Sapphire and several other buildings in Laguna. The self-proclaimed business district, which is an acronym for Historic and Interesting Places, sits between Thalia Street and Bluebird Canyon.
The HIP district is a way for those businesses to pool their money and promote the area, very much like a cooperative.
"It's about getting our name out there, and getting people to understand that this is a place where they can go and have a lot of fun and do a lot of things and experience the best of Laguna," said Steve Dotoratos, who runs the public relations and marketing for the group.
These types of entrepreneurial advertising programs are common. The wrinkle here is the way in which the businesses are defining an area of a city with no real public involvement.
They write the checks, create the advertising and voila, we have a "HIP" district. It's called marketing.
This cultural blank check is not limited to the well-heeled business community. Laguna Beach has carved out its own little districts. The city's official map lists areas like Gallery Row District in North Laguna, the Canyon Arts District, Civic Arts District and the Village Arts District.
Whether it's a business initiative or civic hyperbole, the goals are similar: make a mark to boost business.
So is it working?
"I'm pretty down with the HIP district," said author and Laguna resident Niki Smart, tongue firmly in cheek. "At first I wasn't sure what they were going for."
Smart has worked in Laguna for 14 years and is a four-year resident. She is typical of residents who barely glance at all the tourist literature. Sipping a beverage at Koffee Klatch, she did not know she was in the HIP district.
"I haven't really associated that word with the area," she said. "Maybe they could call it midtown hip district."
For decades, Laguna has been defined as North Laguna, South Laguna, the canyon and downtown (or the village). Most cities have similar geographic descriptions. Occasionally, there are special areas like SoHo, Greenwich Village or the Castro District.
But no one says hip. And no one has said hip in probably 40 years, except when referring to a hip replacement.
Not only that but let's assume for a minute that something is hip. By definition, it will not be hip tomorrow.
No one who lives in Laguna wants to be called hip, just as we would not call ourselves classy.
"Every name has its day, and hip can be hip again," Dotoratos said, trying to be positive.
While the motives and goals of the midtown businesses are admirable, they are shooting themselves in the foot with the name. It will not get any real traction because it's an affectation.
Just call it Midtown.
More importantly, while we're at it, distribute the hotel tax dollars that the city receives more equitably among businesses across the city so these types of marketing programs operate on a level playing field.
Right now, downtown businesses get the lion's share of support through everything like the Christmas lights to the art banners on the light poles.
Many business owners grouse privately about the downtown-centric nature of the city's policies. It's left up to groups like the HIP district, for better or worse, to pull up their own marketing bootstraps.
"We are not receiving funding from the city like the chamber does," Dotoratos said. "We're not receiving funding from the bed tax like the Visitors Bureau. What the businesses do is, we try to put together projects to promote the area and make it easier for visitors to come."
Dotoratos hopes that some recent changes within the city and Chamber of Commerce might help.
"We don't get quite the attention that downtown gets," he said. "And we just haven't had anything to represent ourselves. So we have adopted this whole HIP district thing, and the businesses really like it."
The businesses like the business. No one has said on the record that they like the whole hip thing — for obvious reasons.
We do not live, eat and play in the HIP district. We live in midtown.
I will proclaim it now: Hear, hear, there is an area of Laguna that runs roughly from Cleo Street to Pearl Street, and it's called Midtown Laguna.
It is, by far, the best, most eclectic area of Laguna, filled with wonderful businesses, amazing restaurants, sublime hotels and gorgeous beaches.
It is Midtown — Don't Call Me Hip — Laguna.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times