McCalla’s Pharmacy will celebrate its 45th anniversary in October
at 292 Forest Ave.
It will be the last at that location.
The pharmacy and Generations, the gift and home accessory store
next door, have been given notice to move out by the partnership that
owns the building. At least one other venerable store will either be
sold or closed by the summer of 2003.
There have been changes before, but in the past Forest Avenue has
managed to retain a unique character that sets the city apart from
other South County communities.
“I miss the resident-serving businesses we have lost in the past
and I will miss McCalla’s because it provided such wonderful service
to the community,” said City Clerk Verna Rollinger, a long-time
resident. “I hope it will find a new location so the doors are never
Charles “Mac” McCalla was the first pharmacist to stock AIDS drugs
in Laguna Beach and in 1993, his daughter, Susie McCalla Ornellas,
hand-delivered emergency rations of prescription drugs to residents
caught outside the city without their medications and unable to get
back home because of the fire.
AIDS had never been heard of when “Mac” opened his pharmacy in
1958. But the Christian Science Reading Room had already been on
Forest Avenue for more than a decade, bought when the price was
right, according to thankful volunteer Mary Qeough.
“I’m glad we bought it when we did,” she said.
The lumberyard, owned by the Jahraus family until recently, was
still on Forest Avenue in 1958 and was kingpin of the block closest
to City Hall. The office later became the Ivy House, home-away-from
home to the city’s coterie of cartoonists, and then Cedar Creek Inn.
Nearby, 326 Forest Ave. is the oldest commercial building on the
street. It was built in 1916 and originally housed Whistler & Sons
Grocery. The building was remodeled in 1939 and served as the Red
Cross Relief Headquarters in World War II. A second story was added
in 1981. Jeweler Ken Lauher has owned the building since 1977. He
purchased it from a local attorney.
Family-owned Marriners Stationery was at the other end of the
avenue when Lauher opened for business and had been there even before
Trotters Bakery was down the street from the pharmacy in 1958.
“Everybody went to Trotter’s,” said Ornellas, who took over the
family business from her father in 1983 and hopes to continue it at a
Sheila Bushard’s father and uncle bought a vacant lot on Forest
Avenue and built their pharmacy in 1960.
“Dad knew Forest Avenue was the place to be,” Bushard said. “I
really believe that in today’s market you either have to own your own
building on Forest Avenue or open a restaurant.”
Forty years ago, Markham Insurance Agency, Westbrook’s Fabrics,
Axeline’s Shoes and a furniture store were among the shops that lined
the avenue. People still tell firefighter Carl Klass how much they
miss Klass Electric, run by his father.
The Shields family-owned a hardware store on one side of the
avenue and Boyd’s Hardware occupied the space where Hobie’s is now.
At that time two newspapers were published on the avenue.
“The Laguna edition of the Daily Pilot started in my house on Park
Avenue, but later moved to Forest Avenue,” said Teresa Nall, wife of
the first editor Richard Nall.
Grover and Harriet Hayes had just opened their jewelry store,
which is still owned by the family.
Ornellas and Nall could remember no art galleries on the avenue
and only one restaurant, The Cellar.
Today, trendy and well-patronized restaurants with bars have
replaced Renaissance Bakery, which replaced Trotters; the
open-fronted Forest Market, where locals and tourists bought
sandwiches, snacks and drinks; and The Cellar.
“The late 1980s brought big changes to Forest Avenue,” said
Ornellas. “Neil Purcell, who was then police chief, came to us and
said night life will change the town. He wanted to be sure we would
continue to close at 6 p.m. because of the drugs we stock. We agreed
and so did Bushards.”
Nightlife was not happening on Forest Avenue when “Mac” McCalla
opened for business six months after he graduated with a degree in
McCalla rented the location from Fred Shettler and his father, who
built the building in 1931 that is now occupied by Hobie’s, McCalla’s
Shettler donated the building to South Coast Medical Center, which
later sold it.
For the past 16 years, McCalla’s has paid rent to the partnership
that owns the heritage-rated building.
Ornellas said the partnership had been the finest landlord any one
could ask for, for 15 1/2 years, until June when she said she was
given six months to move, after 44 1/2 years in the same location.
“Susie McCalla gave me avocados when I was a kid,” said the
property’s co-owner Mark Christy, who also owns Hobie Sports. “I love
the McCalla family and I’m hopeful the feeling is mutual.
“We have been more than fair with them. When times were bad, we
didn’t bump the rent even though the lease called for it. But we have
seen the writing on the wall and we have to stay ahead of the curve.”
Christy will submit plans to the city for two new stores to
replace McCallas and Generations.
“You hate to see anybody leave who has been around for almost 50
years, but Mark has the right to do what he wants with his property,”
said George Nelson, owner with his wife, Donna, of Fawn Memories.
“However, I have to agree with Sheila (Bushard). All the mom and pops
stores are at risk. It’s a struggle competing with the chains.
“The city tries to keep the mom and pops, but with the rents, they
get squeezed out,” he said.
Nelson is a relative newcomer to Forest Avenue, 13 years, but not
to the business community in town.
He opened Fawn Memories at the Village Faire on South Coast
Highway when it opened in 1974. Jeweler Rock Martin and Leah Leary,
owner of Laguna Gander, also opened for business there.
“I was the first one to move to Forest Avenue, but Rocky wasn’t
far behind,” Leary said. “There were more resident-serving businesses
here then and it was easier to start a business. Two friends and I
started Laguna Gander on $15,000.”
Scandia Bakery was across the street when Leary opened her store
and is still thriving. But a couple of banks have come and gone.
For a while, galleries dominated the avenue, so ubiquitous that
former City Councilman Wayne Peterson appealed the approval of one,
leading to a lawsuit.
Nowadays, clothing stores dominate. There are a dozen fronting on
the avenue, not including those tucked away in multi-story complexes.
They range from the perky Fresh Produce to preppy Banana Republic to
pricey Novecento, which will be leaving in the next year, relocating
in the new shopping center on Newport Coast. The men’s store, Stuart
Avis, is long gone.
The newest store on the street is Kokopelli, which the city
restricted to jewelry and goods made by native Americans. The city
insisted on the restriction to protect the diversity of the avenue,
which already had four jewelry stores.
“Diversity is essential to the small town shopping experience
rather than cookie-cutter mall shops,” said Rosalie Gelston, owner of
Thee Foxes Trot for 25 years, as well as the building at 264 Forest
Gelston, whose shop could not be more different from Generations,
has seen Thee Foxes Trot wannabes spring up and then disappear.
She also leases another shop nearby, stocked with very different
goods from the original store. Gelston doesn’t believe that high
rents will destroy the avenue.
“If owners charge more than tenants can pay, they won’t have
tenants,” she said.
Or they can become their own tenants.
Christy said the new shops next to Hobie Sports will be a
cutting-edge kids shop and a home environment store, owned by his
* BARBARA DIAMOND is a reporter for the Laguna Beach Coastline
Pilot. She may be reached at 494-4321.