Taking on the Malls : La Jolla Group Aims at Luring Back Shoppers

Times Staff Writer

A small group of business people has begun charting a strategy to help La Jolla's retailers stem the loss of customers to regional malls that spend heavily on marketing and advertising campaigns.

The group includes "merchants and businessmen who care about La Jolla and who are suffering because it's not being promoted very well," said Robert Carlyle, general manager of the Colonial Inn Hotel.

The fledgling "Promote La Jolla" group hopes to attract members through a series of newsletters, the second of which will be mailed next week to some 600 retailers.

"Promote La Jolla" was formed because "La Jolla retailers need to have one unified voice to compete with major shopping centers," said David Brands, who owns a La Jolla-based advertising agency.

The "embryonic" group hopes to attract retailers to an as-yet unscheduled organizational meeting "with their checkbooks in hand," Brands said. The group has yet to identify what it will do to promote La Jolla's diverse retailing community.

"With the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas, this past year was one of the most disastrous in La Jolla's history," said Brands, who added that one La Jolla retailer recently "went five consecutive days without making a sale."

Brands acknowledged that a short supply of parking spaces scares away some customers, but added that parking problems can be solved by "letting people know where the parking is and not letting traffic back up."

The group, which also includes Alexander Bende of Alexander Perfumes and Cosmetics, Gerhard Klein of Little Switzerland Jewelers and management consultant Friedhelm Wortmann, hopes to attract members through a series of newsletters. The first was mailed out in January, and the second will be mailed next week.

"If (retailers) would band together and make it worth coming to La Jolla, (customers) will come," Brands said.

The Promote La Jolla group wants to attract La Jollans and San Diegans who are bypassing La Jolla for the regional malls.

"Our cardinal sin is that people in (La Jolla) are going elsewhere to shop," Brands said. "And no one in business in La Jolla would deny that that's not happening."

Brands complained that many La Jollans conduct their business the same way they did 10 years ago when Fashion Valley was just being formed and North County Fair and University Towne Centre didn't exist. "We need to promote this (area) like the world-class shopping center it certainly has the ability to be," said Brands, who added that retailers in shopping centers benefit from extensive marketing and advertising campaigns made possible through higher rents.

"We have do what Horton Plaza and (University Towne Center) do," Carlyle said. "And that's promote La Jolla like one great big shopping center. That's our goal."

Despite "nice restaurants, shops and the coastline, (University Towne Center) attracts twice as many people as we do," Carlyle said. "People have been talking about this for a long time, but no one ever does much about it."

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