One word repeatedly arises in conversations about Laguna Beach’s HIP District: “excited.”
With six new businesses cropping up, the south side of Laguna Beach, a historically sleepier sister to the bustling downtown, is seeing unprecedented growth of shops and restaurants.
In particular, the Art Center is welcoming three new shops to its cluster at the corner of South Coast Highway and Calliope Street: Laguna Outpost by Siemon & Salazar, French Buckets and Neko Home.
Carmen Salazar is putting the finishing touches on Laguna Outpost to display her and husband Caleb Siemon’s glassblowing art. The Laguna couple will continue to craft high-end glass vessels and lighting from their 20-year Santa Ana studio, but Salazar longed to have a showcase space.
“I just basically wanted to have a place where I can work and people can come have tea with me,” she said with a laugh. “In a beautiful little setting across from the beach.”
The former arts commissioner looked solely in Laguna Beach so she could be closer to her home of 17 years and her children could walk to the store after their weekly taekwondo lessons.
“We’ve never been able to live and work in Laguna, but that’s kind of the dream. I mean, why not, if you can?” she said. “I just kind of wanted to come back into the Laguna fold and get to know people, because really it’s all about the community, right?”
The HIP District — HIP is short for Historic and Interesting Places — is a stretch of seven blocks along South Coast Highway between Thalia Street and Bluebird Canyon Drive. It has been communally striving to brand itself as the cool part of town. On its first “Old School Laguna Day” in March, celebrating the history of the area, sales at many stores increased by 30% with the help of promotions, according to Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, executive director of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce.
“The HIP District right now has traction,” she said. “We have people asking, ‘Where is the HIP District?’ when they come into our office. What they’re doing is working.”
Barbara Bowler, the Art Center’s property manager, said competition for the three storefronts was fierce — 20 parties vied for the spots.
The new inhabitants are already bubbling with collaboration. Salazar noted how Laguna Outpost’s glass work pairs nicely with Neko Home’s mid-century furniture, and Sussanna Davidson, owner of flower design shop French Buckets, said she has arranged flowers for neighboring interior design stores.
“It’s like a little power corner over there,” Davidson said with a laugh. “A lot of art and women and great neighbors.”
After 18 years in the floral business, Davidson plans to open French Buckets by next week. Her business, which employs her sister and niece, will continue to run a kiosk in Newport Beach. But Davidson said she needed more work space and that a store was an opportunity to connect with customers while expanding. About 15% to 20% of her business was already in Laguna Beach, so moving into the HIP District was a natural fit, she said.
Though Neko Home’s owner, Danna Wright, had managed furniture retail stores before, opening her own was a dream born out of a passion project. She has long collected vintage furniture — mid-century sofas, tables and a mix of home accessories — mostly to fill her home or sell at an occasional flea market.
But when Wright found herself between jobs earlier this summer, she decided to “take the leap” and move into the storefront that previously housed Calliope Consignment.
“I want to make sure that there is a place where people know they can always get a certain thing that nobody else has in Laguna,” Wright said.
Up the street, French designer Sandrine Guibert intends to give shoppers an array of unique options at her new store, Ligne Blanche, at 1175 S. Coast Hwy.
Guibert set up shop Aug. 2 with a mix of gift items and her own handbag designs. After 10 years owning another store in New York, Guibert decided, “It’s time to go to California, since our customers are asking about it.”
Guibert and her husband took several trips to cities along the California coast before a friend recommended Laguna Beach.
“I fell in love with Laguna; it’s beautiful here,” Guibert said. “Everywhere you drive, you see the sea.”
Like her neighbors down the road, getting her business up and running was quick — a process markedly different from the downtown area, where potential businesses are required to apply for a conditional use permit and undergo a sometimes exhaustive review process. The HIP District does not have such specifications.
However, the closed Coast Inn — which is in the HIP District at the corner of Mountain Road and South Coast Highway — might because of its historical nature. Connor Stevens, real estate agent for property owner Chris Dornin, said Newport Beach-based Bear Flag Fish Co. has signed a lease for the space, which housed the Boom Boom Room, a bar popular with the LGBTQ community. But the company will have to go to the city for approval on renovation plans.
Better Buzz Coffee of San Diego is set to move into the liquor store across the street, Stevens said.
“We’re all really excited based on the new tenants and the caliber of tenants we’re seeing come to the market,” Stevens said. “It’s just a very exciting time for Laguna Beach.”