It is said where one door closes, another opens. In the case of Laguna Beach commerce, gallery closings in recent years have opened store fronts to other types of merchants, so that the town is less about arts and more about, well, shopping.
I had hoped to provide quantitative data on this subject, but neither city administrators nor the arts commission keep track of businesses by type, so no one could tell me how many galleries have closed since the recession hit, or opened, nor could they provide a count of dedicated galleries currently operating within town borders. Anecdotal evidence suggests somewhere between a handful to a dozen or so are gone, and in their places shops sell apparel and home goods, even a yoga center.
A slight but perceptible shift is perhaps best exemplified by the stretch of Coast Highway shops north of Bluebird Canyon Drive. Once populated exclusively by art galleries, this strip now offers a varied assortment of merchandise, defusing the dominant arts character of that area.
Anchored by Vertigo Home, which moved from a previous space nearby last year, co-owners Martin Ulrich and Chris Van Bubbles offer stylish Danish interpretations of functional home accessories. A place where you might call a gift gallery, like upscale shops in Los Angeles or Venice Beach, and they also market one-of-a-kind upholstery fabrics and furniture. I especially admired the selection of clocks, which are works of art.
Next door is Les Pommettes, offering Euro-style women’s clothing and jewelry under crystal chandeliers, a place where Marie Antoinette might have frequented [in designer jeans I imagine.] Clothing hangs in diaphanous fabrics in soft colors, with jewelry to match. Sort of Paris meets the surf shop.
Any day now, Latitude Supply Company will open next store, the first bricks and mortar outlet for “coastal fashion” previously sold only in boutiques.
Complementing these retailers, just up the street, is the town favorite, Strands and Stitches, a quilting and needlepoint shop and Red Fox, a tiny women’s shop offering “good clothes” featuring organic and SPF-infused fabrics, and artsy costume jewelry.
All three stores occupy the street level of a Tudor building called The Granada that once housed only art galleries, with local favorite salon Studio Taka upstairs. Next door, at Bluebird Center, the former Mian Situ gallery awaits a new tenant.
If the trend continues, Laguna’s well-crafted arts persona will be increasingly defined more by the festivals and the museum than galleries. What will that mean for local galleries and artists? Or is this the answer to the prayers of those who favor gentrification? Time will tell.
Randy Kraft is a freelance writer who previously covered the city for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for www.ocinsite.com. Her first novel “Colors of the Wheel published this month.