New eyewear tenant seeks former Emporio Optic space

Sunglasses are a signature accessory in Southern California and shops that sell them have proliferated in Laguna, according to a city survey.

The City Council will be asked to decide at the Aug. 7 meeting if another one is warranted.

An appeal has been filed of the Planning Commission's approval of a new optic shop at 263 Forest Ave., previously Emporio Optic, that will almost triple the percentage of sunglasses that may be displayed. Requests by Emporio to increase the percentage of sunglasses had been denied and city staff opposed the current request made by applicant Borislav Alexandrov.

"Surveys have been done in the downtown area and in the recently updated survey we found that there are a large number of stores that carry sunglasses — some of them on the less expensive end, some on the very high end, but for the most part there are a lot in the middle range, sold in sporting goods and clothing stores as accessories," said Community Development Department Manager Ann Larson in the staff presentation.

Alexandrov asked to increase the display of sunglasses in the proposed shop from 20% to 60%. The commission, rather than increase the percentage, instead set a number: up to 1,000 of the total 2,000 frames to be displayed in the store may be sunglasses. Commissioner Norm Grossman said that with transition and yellow lenses classified as clear lenses, Alexandrov will be allowed close to the 60% sunglass display he requested.

"Sixty percent is a sunglass shop and we are already saturated," said Harjit Singh Bagga, owner of Sunglass Gallery on Ocean Avenue, who appealed the commission's decision.

The Downtown Specific Plan encourages diversity among retailers, and the city enforces it through the conditional use permit. Emporio Optic was limited to the 20% condition.

"Most shops in town are cheap glasses," said local business owner Alan Hall, who said his father owns the building at 263 Forest Ave. "They are like flip-flops."

"A normal high-end optic shop sells 6% sunglasses," Hall said. "The only people wearing clear glasses are watching movies.

"Emporio Optic went out of business because of the 20% restriction. It's like having an ice cream store and only selling vanilla."

Alexandrov suggested the switch from percentage to numbers. Larson said the merchandise had to be counted anyway to ensure the percentages.

The commission also approved the sale of fashion watches with no metal or gems.


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