Can’t Sell This
In 1952, the Laguna Beach yellow pages listed two haberdasheries, 11 women’s wear shops, three lumber yards, 15 grocery markets, one machine shop, one colonic irrigator, one concrete plant, six self-service laundries, one sheet music dealer, five plant nurseries, three phonograph record stores, four radio service and repair stores, one horse riding academy, five shoe stores, three retail stationary stores, four bakeries, and over a dozen new car dealers. All for a town of less than 7,000 people
They’re almost all gone now. Our City Council didn’t have a thing to do with their demise. Progress killed each and every one of them. They fell victim to regional shopping. Little local merchants couldn’t compete with big department stores and chain grocers who offered a greater selection of merchandise at a better value.
Centers, such as Fashion Island, Laguna Hills Mall and South Coast Plaza, all enjoyed their time in the sun. But then things changed again. Walmart and Amazon crushed those department stores as efficiently as they had crushed the small local merchants they once replaced. Call it the evolution of retail.
Some of our local merchants can’t stop whining about how business could be so much better for them, if only the City Council would just do a little bit of this and that to help them out. This isn’t true. The only way government could save these lost causes is to make it a law that we all have to patronize them—that’s not happening.
At Laguna Hills Mall, you can see the future. All that defunct retail space is being converted into residential use. Folks don’t need more places to shop. They need more places to live.
We could solve many of our perennial problems here in Laguna by recognizing that we have a surplus of retail space and a real shortage of residential space. There is an apocryphal city management theory that retail is good for a municipal budget and residents are bad. That can only be true if the businesses are doing well and the residents have lots of children.
This just isn’t the case here. Our businesses aren’t doing well, and our residents aren’t having lots of kids. In Laguna, retail space sells for less per square foot than residential does. Owners of commercial property would do better economically when that property is used for residential housing.
We’d be better off with more residential housing provided locally. Less people needing to commute to work from out of town would have a salutary effect on our traffic quagmire.
J.J. Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11 years old. He has loved it ever since.