Retailers optimistic

Coastline Pilot

Despite the economic downturn that has resulted in a reported 32% decrease in sales in Laguna Beach, some vendors say they've already seen a spike in activity since Memorial Day weekend, and they are optimistic that the tourist season will again bring a bounty of business to the town.

Whitney Rose, manager of Hobie Surf Shop downtown at the corner of Beach Street and Forest Avenue, said that judging by the business the store saw during spring break, she anticipates a busy summer.

"It's been huge," she said. "I expect a big jump from the [lack of activity] of the past two summers."

Owner of Fawn Memories, George Nelson, whose souvenir shop has been located in the heart of the downtown area since 1974, said he is also optimistic based on what he's seen in the past few weeks.

"I'm seeing more upswing and traffic for sure," he said. "The tourists and customers we've seen so far are early indicators that sales will be up from last year."

Some proprietors are venturing to open to new stores and restaurants, with the faith that things are turning around.

Bob Kronquist — known locally as "Kayak Surf Bob" — opened 484 North Gallery in February. He struggled to rent out the space formerly occupied by Schaar Galleries, which his family has owned since 1973.

"It's actually come together so nicely because people are without jobs and have had time to help me spruce it up," he said. "It's a great spot where artists can come together and encourage each other."

The seven-room, 1,150-square-foot house at 474 N. Coast Hwy., which has been converted into a gallery, carries a variety of paintings from local collectors, artists and Sawdust exhibitors, and includes a collection of vintage prints from the '50s and '60s.

Kronquist, whose father helped found the Sawdust Festival in 1966 when it took place on North Coast Highway, not far from where his gallery is now, said he remains especially loyal to Sawdust exhibitors.

"I give out the space in the gallery and let the artists take ownership of it," he said. "I'm trying to share the property with different people who could really use it right now.

"So far our sales have been amazing and I'm optimistic that we'll continue to do well in the upcoming season."

The gallery, open daily from noon to 6 p.m., hopes to become an official member of First Thursdays Art Walk.

In the meantime, it hosts talented local musicians to help draw Artwalkers in an extra block on Pacific Coast Highway.

For more information, Kronquist can be reached at (949) 201-0144.

The owner of one new shop in town, though, expects a decline in sales over the next couple of months as the tourist season gets into full swing.

Principal and Nutritionist Matt Vega of Nutri Stop, which opened at 190 Beach St. in February, said most health enthusiasts don't shop for nutrition needs while on vacation, and tourism usually makes business slow.

"We're really here for the locals anyway," he said. "Our focus is on providing them with diet and nutrition consultations and their health needs year-round."

The Stop also offers diet, training and supplement programs to athletes, and carries an array of products including traditional herbs, weight loss and sports nutrition, and vitamins and minerals.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The store can be reached at (949) 497-4200.

Locals can hit up the following restaurants and shops before tourists take over the town.

Aliso Café and Concession, 31131 S. Coast Hwy., offers an ocean-side ambience and a breakfast and lunch menu which includes greasy favorites like burgers, fries and burritos, as well as healthier options like granola, eggs and smoothies. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., it can be reached at (949) 715-0077.

"It's a great spot for people who want to grab something to eat and hang out by the ocean," owner Michael Weiss said. "We've drawn a lot of people since we opened in April, and I think we'll get a lot more in the summer season."

House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer, 540 S. Coast Hwy, No. 200, opened as a Laguna "fish house" in March, and offers an extensive beer and wine menu, full bar, and reasonably-priced menu of hot and cold seafood favorites. The upbeat spot also hosts a happy hour from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday with discounted food items, HD TVs for sports games and musical acts on the weekends. Open daily from 4 p.m. to midnight. More information may be found at (949) 715-4500. Reservations are suggested if you want a spot in this hoppin' new joint.

"We saw the need for a casual place where people could watch the game over a plate of crab legs, gather with friends to unwind or just come in and enjoy good seafood at a great value," co-owner Amy Amaradio said. "We've been excited to see the tremendous response from the Laguna Beach community and local 'regulars' — it really helps us build the neighborhood feel that we are going for. As the weather starts shifting toward summer, we're planning to see lots of new faces."

A pair of new galleries opened recently on Forest Avenue.

Art Cube, 266 Forest Ave., "supports truth in art and offers breathing room for the spirit" with works by Father Bill Moore, Dennis Hare and Pamela Grau Twena. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. More information may be found at (949) 376-8800.

Green Cube, 264 Forest Ave., the sister to Art Cube, offers an array of eco-inspired home furnishings and accessories. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Kush Fine Art recently moved to 265 Forest Ave. from a South Coast Highway location, where spokeswoman Polina Hryn said the gallery hopes to get a lot more exposure, especially in the tourist season. For more information, call (949) 376-8017 or visit www.vladimirkush.com/home.php.

Lululemon Athletica, 1231 N. Coast Hwy., opened recently with a collection of yoga-inspired clothing in addition to yoga and exercise classes for locals. Jessica Edwards, community relations team member, said the chain chose the Laguna location because it wants to connect with local athletes and elevate the fitness community. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and by appointment only on Wednesday. More information may be found at (949) 376-7395.

Standup Paddle Company, 1099 S. Coast Hwy., offers stand-up paddle lessons in addition to stand-up paddle yoga and fitness classes. To schedule an appointment, call (949) 338-4995.

"I think this movement toward a more fit and healthy lifestyle is going to be huge, and the summer will draw in a lot more people," said co-owner Tommy Donnelly.

The newly renovated Heisler Building at Laguna Avenue and South Coast Highway won't see an opening this summer. Tommy Bahama is scheduled to open in November with a clothing retail shop and restaurant downstairs, and a Rock 'n Fish restaurant upstairs.

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