For some businesses, U.S. Open is a wipeout

With her hair salon set in the middle of the Main Street bustle in downtown Huntington Beach, Susie Smith has a front-row view of the space where fights escalated after last year's U.S. Open of Surfing, the weeklong surfing competition held every summer in the city.

The largest surfing competition in the world generates millions of dollars for the city and many of its businesses. But the event, which runs from Saturday to Aug. 3, has left some business owners upset about last year's spectacle and nervous about this year.

Once the event concluded on July 28, 2013, thousands of people crowded Main Street and caused significant damage.

A stop sign was torn down and shoved through the Easyrider bike shop's storefront window. The employees stayed in the shop, kept the doors locked and the lights off, and armed themselves with wrenches and bike seat posts when they saw miscreants pull down the sign. A bike was stolen and a mannequin damaged.

Meanwhile, portable toilets were flipped over, and trash was scattered on streets.

The rioting cost the city $30,800.

Though the U.S. Open of Surfing draws thousands of people to downtown Huntington Beach and with them the promise of booming business, Smith sees her Makin' Waves hair salon being harmed every year.

"We don't benefit by it," Smith said. "It actually hurts us."

Smith and her staff arrange to have appointments finished by 2 p.m. so clients can avoid traffic. She says many do not want to drive downtown, fight for parking and hassle with crowds, but the modified schedule means she loses money for 10 or 11 days. She also hires a security guard to patrol her salon.

"I wish it could be moved to October when we're less busy," she said. "And honestly, the waves are not that good. We don't have the room and the parking during summer months."

Smith believes that the main cause of the eruption last year was the lure of free entertainment. "I would definitely say it was having the free bands," she said. "We knew it was no longer about surfing and it's not honoring the U.S. Open."

This year, there will be no free concerts, and the city will be attempting to clamp down on the distribution of free goodies.

"The focus is back on the sport of surfing, and we're happy about that," said Susan Welfringer, manager of the Huntington Beach Downtown Business Improvement District, which hosts art walks and farmers markets.

"Last year, most people were not there to watch surfing," Smith said, remembering empty stands. "We won't be attracting the same crowd because we don't have a lot of things for free."

But she is still taking precautions.

She has instructed her hairdressers to lock their stations, wanting to ensure that nothing would be stolen should there be a break-in.

"A lot of their shears are around $600," she said. "You're really on eggshells around here."

Welfringer said locals know not to visit service-oriented retailers like eye doctors, Realtors and dentists during the event.

"For many of our businesses, they will be slow that week," she said. "They just accept the culture of what our city is about."

She added: "They like saying their business is in the city."

Such an event provides opportunities to generate sales. According to the 2010 economic impact study, each U.S. Open of Surfing attendee spent an average of $90 in Huntington Beach during the event.

Krysta Kivela of clothing shop 1 Look Vintage doesn't like the wild atmosphere but says the store earns extra money. "Personally, I think it's a little much," Kivela said. "But the store picks up, and it gets busy."

Smith remains hopeful for a calmer year.

"Last year was the worst, but we had seen the tension building two years ago," she said. "This year, I don't feel the same nervousness. Our police officers are doing a really great job."

Chief Robert Handy said the department will deploy four mounted officers downtown on the weekends and increase police presence toward the end of the competition. Officers from Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Westminster will assist in the patrols.

"The police chief has a different view on how to handle it," Smith said.

Among the changes is leaving Main Street open.

"Last year, Main Street was shut down and people were just mingling and causing fights," Smith said. "They won't shut it down this year, because now people won't be able to congregate in that big space."

She feels confident the police "will keep it safe."

So does Welfringer.

"We have a lot of confidence in our Police Department and security," she said.

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