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Business ins and outs

Laguna Beach businesswoman Heidi Miller doesn’t give up easily.

On Feb. 1, Miller will reopen the international newsstand on the corner of the highway and Ocean Avenue that went out of business in 2006. She considers it a public service.

“It belongs in Laguna,” Miller said. “When it closed last year, I knew Johnny Rockets wanted to open a walk-up window and I knew that would never fly. Nobody wanted ketchup packages all over the street. I have the same landlord and I told him to call me back when the city said no.”

When the call came, Miller took action. The newsstand is the third business she has owned in Laguna, starting with a chain of yogurt shops in the 1980s. After selling those shops, she opened Tight Assets on South Coast Highway, the retail clothing shop where Miller said fashion meets function.

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A look back at 2006

The resurrection of the local newsstand is a bright spot at the end of a year in which a number of notable, long-term businesses closed up shop or changed ownership and operations. But other businesses came to town in their place.

Local folks and visitors lamented the closing of the newsstand, as well as the Jolly Roger, where many patrons of the newsstand breakfasted; Big Dog, and Hi-Tech Cleaners on Ocean Avenue — which is designated for resident-serving businesses.

Also late and lamented are Jamba Juice, like Big Dog, a chain; and Chapleau’s on Laguna Canyon Road, which had served some of the best hamburgers in Laguna for more than 25 years.

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But the business news was not all bad in 2006.

“Even though we had some closures, overall it was a good year for the business community,” said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rose Hancock.

The iconic complex of dilapidated shacks at 1212 South Coast Highway, renamed the Old Pottery Place, reopened after months of reconstruction, bringing six new shops to town and the soon-to-open Sapphire restaurant and gourmet deli.

“I am hearing such wonderful comments everywhere about the shops,” Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson said.

Tootsies’ shoe store, the Chocolate Soldier candy shop, Riviera Homes’ lifestyle and interior design center, Scout 3 clothing, Studio Arts gallery and Laguna Beach Books are all newcomers to Laguna’s retail community.

And the reopening of Wahoos’ Fish Tacos up the street added luster to the already vibrant mid-town commercial area.

“This is the kind of redevelopment we want to see in that area,” Johnson said.

Newcomers to the business community in 2006 also included The Vault, a men’s clothing store on the corner of Second Street and Forest Avenue where the defunct Security Pacific Bank used to store its cash. The community also welcomed several new home accessory shops, a couple of them on Forest Avenue, which already featured Tuvalu, Art for the Soul, Art of Living and Thee Foxes Trot, among others.

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The Planning Commission approved a permit in April for Stylistic Intervention’s eclectic mix of home-oriented merchandise and a permit in August for Unique Finds on the second floor of the building that houses Fingerhut Gallery and Chico’s on the corner of Forest Avenue and South Coast Highway.

Unique Finds may be the last home décor store approved by the commission for a while in the downtown — where diversity is prized.

“Home accessories stores have about reached saturation in the downtown; the point where we draw the line,” Commissioner Norm Grossman said.

While the goods may not be duplicated, the cumulative effect is not what the Downtown Specific Plan encourages.

Cookies are cookies, whether a store specializes in chocolate chip or macaroons; saturation of purpose can erode diversity, Johnson said.

Forest Avenue retailer Alan Hall played the saturation card in 2005, to successfully muster opposition against a proposed new women’s store in the vacant building formerly occupied by Banana Republic. The shoe was on the other foot in 2006 when he applied for a permit to open a third women’s shop on the avenue.

The City Council upheld the Planning Commission’s denial of Hall’s proposal for a shoe and women’s accessory store, which the commissioners said did not add to the downtown’s eclectic character. Eleven owners of women’s stores opposed Hall’s application.

“Diversity is critical to the downtown,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson-Schneider, a former Planning Commissioner.

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It is not an issue outside of the downtown, Grossman said, which might account for the approval of Found Objekts, which also sells home accessories, on the corner of Thalia and Glenneyre streets. It replaced Consignment Corner, which moved about a half block away into smaller quarters.

Not every application was so favored.

“Business is good for two months of the year, but it is hard to survive for the other 10 months,” said Romeo Cucina owner Vittorio Romeo in his plea to the council for a permit for amplified music for after-dining hours dancing.

However, the council balked and voted to allow no dancing, no amplification, and no more than two musicians — neither to be a drummer. Performances were required to end by midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, 11 p.m. on Thursdays and 10:30 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays.

“When I am downtown, I want to hear the ocean,” said then-Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman, who chaired the meeting.

Generally speaking the ka-ching of cash is preferred by the business community, which often sees profits evaporate by conditions beyond their control: resurfacing of downtown streets, for instance. Or the weather.

It is a given that Laguna businesses thrive on the influx of summer tourists, but the record number of visitors trying to escape the heat wave in July just weren’t buying.

“July brought a whole bunch of people into town, but they were filling trash containers at Main Beach, not cash registers,” George Nelson, owner of Fawn Memories on Forest Avenue said at the time.

All three art festivals reported ticket sales were off in July.

“That heat killed us,” said Rebecca Meekma, Sawdust Festival media and community relations manager. “People were coming to Laguna to cool off, not to buy or enjoy art and culture.”

Business picked up when the temperature went down.

“Fortunately, we rebounded in August,” said Sharbie Higuchi, Festival of Arts marketing and public relations director.

Other changes in the business community included the sale of Albertson’s Market. The Royal Hawaiian also changed hands and underwent extensive renovation. Sav-On Drugs in the Aliso Creek Shopping Center was sold to CVS, easily identified by the red, internally-lit sign emblazoned on the building façade, now being scrutinized by city officials.

And last but not least, a 2006 eye opener: Diedrich’s out. Starbucks in.

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QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Are too many smaller businesses leaving Laguna Beach? Write us at P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, CA, 92652, e-mail us at coastlinepilot@latimes.com or fax us at 494-8979. Please give your name and tell us your home address and phone number for verification purposes only.


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