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San Juan Capistrano : Small Merchants Plan Mall Counterattack

They’ve enlisted the aid of a dancing bear and gladly accepted the help of local politicians in dramatizing their plight--all part of a war plan by 60 San Juan Capistrano merchants to fight their greatest nemesis--the shopping mall.

“The mall is a corporation; it’s not a small business. As a giant corporation, consumers won’t get personal attention,” said Brian McInerney, one of the organizers of the forthcoming “Shop San Juan Week,” which hopes to keep local shoppers close to home. The campaign was kicked off with a flourish.

“The corporations in Mission Viejo don’t appreciate customers as much as the small businesses do,” he said.

Pat Crockett, executive director of the Saddleback Regional Chamber of Commerce, disagrees. Malls are the most convenient way to go shopping and the Shop San Juan effort, she said, probably won’t amount to much.

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“Those types of campaigns are wonderful, but Mrs. Smith isn’t going to get into her car to buy a lamp shade at one place, get in her car and drive a mile to buy shoes and then get in her car again to buy a birthday card when she can park free at the mall and get most of it there,” Crockett said. “That’s why malls are successful.”

McInerney admitted that malls may be more convenient, but with many shops in San Juan Capistrano being “mom-and-pop” establishments, “what you lose in convenience, you get back in personal service.” He said the small shops in San Juan face their biggest competition from the Mission Viejo Mall just north of the city at Crown Valley Parkway. The merchants, spearheaded by the local Chamber of Commerce, kicked off their campaign Aug. 14 with a special ceremony complete with balloons, dancing bear, politicians and lots of bumper stickers promoting the Shop San Juan idea.

To try to reverse the exodus of shoppers and revenue from San Juan Capistrano, merchants are planning sales with hefty discounts from next Monday through Sept. 15. In addition, some downtown businesses, McInerney said, plan to counter complaints that shops in San Juan Capistrano close too early by staying open until 9 p.m. on Sept. 14.

Although redevelopment of San Juan Capistrano’s downtown area is in the offing, McInerney said that the important thing now is to attract customers for existing businesses.

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