VERY SPECIAL: Specialty stores are growing increasingly specialized as retailers scramble to distinguish themselves in Orange County's competitive market. . . . Want a model race car? Fast Track at MainPlace Santa Ana has hundreds of miniature models. Your sixth-grader needs a personalized rubber stamp? Check out Posh Impressions in Irvine's Woodbridge Village Center. You need some Quiksilver merchandise? Visit the Boardrider Club in Laguna Beach, which carries only the Quik labels.
BEATING WAL-MART: Giant retailers such as Wal-Mart lure shoppers by offering low prices on everything from atlases to zippers. . . . Customers will put up with higher prices at specialty stores, says Tony Cherbak, a Costa Mesa-based retail industry analyst, "if they know they're going to find better selections and more knowledgeable salespeople. At these big stores, you're lucky if you find someone who can help you."
LOCAL BREW: Many specialty stores evolve from hobbies. Don Siechert, owner of Fun Fermentations, brewed beer at home for years before purchasing the Orange-based specialty store that helps do-it-yourselfers turn out beer, wine, vinegar and soda pop. . . . But Siechert cautions that it's hard to squeeze cash from a hobby. Since buying Fun Fermentations in 1987, he's acquired the remains of 20 failed competitors. "It takes a lot of capital and effort," says Siechert. "It was two or three years before things finally settled down."
RELAX SHOP: Niche can't mean narrow when it comes to products on display. . . . Tea for Two fills its shelves with more than 1,000 tea-related items. Relax The Back Store has collected more than 500 products designed solely for aching backs. . . . Niche stores always are looking for ways to broaden their appeal so they can attract more customers. The Tinder Box smoke shop at the Mall of Orange, for example, might add a small coffee shop, says manager Ajay Jha: "Customers need a place where they can go and smoke a cigar and relax."
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The number of business permits issued to Orange County's retail stores has steadily increased.
Source: State Board of Equalization