Ask anyone how business is going in Laguna Beach and one person
will tell you that it’s terrible and that it is all to be blamed on
Sept. 11. But the person sitting next to them might say it’s doing
In a time when Wall Street has sent families running for the hills
with the remains of their retirement, 27% more homes were sold in
Laguna compared to last year, the picture is puzzling.
“Honestly I hear both sides,” said Anne Morris, executive director
of the Laguna Chamber of Commerce. “There’s concern because of the
media-driven message of doom and gloom but you look around and see
people who are doing fine.”
Although exact figures are not yet available for hotel or retail
taxes, Morris has noticed a stronger than usual return on the
chamber’s business survey that asks members what services they need
to be more successful. Based on that data, the chamber will continue
to build its Meet the Experts brown bag lunch series that is set to
begin at the end of September. Pointing to the chamber’s monthly
mixer, the annual Laguna Business Expo and the joint partnership with
www.lagunabeach.com, Morris encourages business owners to take
advantage of the opportunities to reap greater profits.
“Lagunabeach.com received 70,000 unique hits last month and 85% of
the viewers will visit Laguna within 90 days,” she said. “That
partnership alone has brought $2 million in revenue.”
Still, without concrete fact how do we really know if the economy
is up or down? The Coastline Pilot went to the businesses themselves
and profiled three different sectors of Laguna’s economy: retail,
service and nonprofit.
Honest In Deed
Sunset Terrace on a late weekday morning sings not only with the
sweet trilling of birds or the laughter of children playing in the
yard. The whisper of the beach is punctuated by the steady beat of a
hammer and pierced by the whine of a drill. For some that cacophony
is a nuisance, but for Mike Morris, owner of J.M. Morris Construction
it’s the music of healthy business.
“I stay consistently busy all the time,” he said. “The sky is not
falling for us because construction and real estate are doing great.”
Morris moved out to Laguna with his wife Anne and his construction
company 12 years ago from Kansas City. With more than 30 years
experience in the business, he knows a thing or two about his
industry but that first year in California was a tough one.
“There are a lot of rules and regulations in this town and I spent
a lot of time screwing in light bulbs and doing handyman jobs,” he
said. “At the time the economy was really in the tank.”
Now his work comes from referrals, meaning that an honest job and
an active role in the community as a member of the Rotary Club and in
the chamber counts more in Laguna than a snappy slogan or flashy ad
“When people like you ... that is where you do well in this
business,” he said. “It’s very open ended and they have to trust
For the past three years business has remained steady for Morris
and even if the larger economy takes a greater dive, he thinks that
with a crew of five his business will remain on an even keel.
“We specialize in remodel, repair and renovation and we’ve never
had a problem,” he said. “As long as God has termites and mold, I’ll
always have work.”
Nonprofit organizations, particularly those that specialize in the
arts, are the first to suffer in a weak economy that cannot support
lavish endowments. Although the Laguna Art Museum has had to be more
creative in its fund-raising efforts, as a whole it has not suffered
“Sept. 11 did not entirely affect attendance,” said Stuart Byer,
public relations director for the museum. “Many museums saw an
increase because many people looked to art as an antidote.”
Throughout the year the museum has continued to see strong
attendance. Its two largest events of the calendar year, Art For AIDS
and the Lincoln Plein Air Painting Invitational (co-hosted with
Laguna Plein Air Painters) drew record crowds.
“We had two very strong shows in the past and Surf Culture broke
attendance records when 800 people came though on opening day,” Byer
Back to the Basics
At Crazy Shirts on Forest Avenue, manager Robbie Prude and her
crew have to be on their toes for a stranger at any given moment.
After the events of Sept. 11 slammed tourism to a halt and the
Crazy Shirts Company was purchased by Waikiki Trader, the Laguna
store was like the little engine that could.
“Our target market are tourists,” said Robin Ahmann, area manager
of Southern California and Las Vegas. “Obviously it affected our
market but it was out of control.”
Together with Prude Ahmann looked at what they could control:
products, display and service. Backed by the Crazy Shirts designers
who create the in-demand hydro shorts that change pattern when wet,
or the specialty dyed product line of clothing that is dyed by
chocolate, beer, chile and money, the store has product covered. As
for display, Prude routinely moves products around the store so that
the hot-ticket items are up front along with the untried for
But the primary focus, said Ahmann, has been service.
“We signed up for a mystery shopper with the chamber as part of a
four-week program that will also monitor our improvement,” she said.
The mystery shopper will look at how employees greet him or her,
if they know the products and sell up the store’s amenities such as
its complimentary gift wrapping that is designed to survive any
suitcase. However, Prude and her crew also strive to be good
neighbors and ambassadors.
“If a customer comes in needing a children’s shirt or bathing
suit, someone will tell them where they can find it in town,” she
said. “We also give meter change and try to keep up with local events
or give restaurant suggestions.”
Partly because of their attention to the fundamental rule in
retail -- the customer is always right -- Ahmann estimated that sales
are 5% more than their projected goals for June and July.
“We’re doing stronger than we planned for the summer season,” she
said. “You can only change what you can change, the rest we play by
* MARY A. CASTILLO is a news assistant for the Coastline Pilot.
She covers education, public safety and City Hall.