By Jason Garza, Special to the Independent
Hobie Alter was one of the founding fathers of the Laguna Beach surfing community and his story is familiar to just about every resident if they have been here long enough. He had many solid lessons in business and life but two particularly resonate with Laguna Beach’s current Darwinian circumstances.
“If it’s fun, it’s never work. And if it isn’t fun, it’ll never work.” He also lived by the old adage, “surround yourself with incredible people and let them do what they do.”
These are words that Mark Christy thinks about every day and he enjoys giving his all in what he does, including overseeing the Hobie stores that Alter entrusted to him in 1996. Christy has played a major role in keeping Alter’s traditions alive. The need to preserve the culture here is readily apparent in all of his many storefronts and restaurants.
About two dozen Laguna Beach merchants collaborated to launch LocalsForLagunaBeach.com on Thursday as a private forum to share ideas, resources, recommendations, and best practices to keep their doors open during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
The site’s founders believe the grassroots effort will make coordination easy for all local merchants amid the current economic uncertainty. They also see this as an opportunity for all Laguna Beach store owners to showcase their goods, food, artwork, and services in one place. Another bonus is the ability for shoppers to see pictures of the people making the goods and who owns the stores that they would be supporting.
Participating business owners intentionally created the independent forum to avoid what they view as the often toxic environment on Laguna Beach’s invitation-only Facebook groups, alliance members said.
While many retailers are temporarily closed, a few are considered essential and open to the few masked residents willing to deal with the parking and restrictions. With sales down at a time of year that historically has been abundant, the collaborative efforts to bring about this site, has brought about momentous changes and the long overdue joint efforts and union needed from businesses. Christy is one of its most enthusiastic members.
He calls Laguna Beach “the world’s greatest campsite” and relayed that he approaches all of his businesses in the same manner.
“We all need to stay experimental, offer exceptional customer service, and create an environment that shows the customers we really care!” Christy said. “Going forward, if business owners want to compete in this new environment, our current action plan just won’t cut it anymore. We need to find the sweet spot between maintaining our unique and eclectic flavoring while simultaneously adapting to the ever-changing conditions.”
Kristin Miracle-Lewis of The Garage Collective in town, suggested that those with expertise in a particular skillset could host webinars for the others. LocalsforLagunaBeach.com promotes all shops in Laguna Beach and drives customers to them through a virtual storefront shopping experience.
Many high school students have already pledged their shopping dollars and assistance in marketing the site on their social media accounts.
Another one of the site’s boosters is Jeff Booth, a 50-year Laguna Beach resident who has taken first place over a dozen times at the Brooks Street Surf Classic. Booth, his wife Melissa, and their two children have contributed to the surf culture and constant charity work they do for the locals. They believe this business collective is long overdue.
“Laguna Beach is a community held together by its small businesses,” Melissa said. “They are our gathering places, our home away from home, our family retreats and reunions. The people who run these businesses have watched us and our kids grow up – providing conversation, advice and laughs with countless meals along the way.”
The Booths recently started a clothing brand 4SOCIETEE to allow customers to promote the idea of supporting causes that are important to them. They see LocalsForLagunaBeach.com as a launchpad for this start-up.
Jane Hanauer, who has owned Laguna Beach Books going on 14 years this September, believes the collective should arrange and coordinate a town delivery system.
“We could collect goods from all shops and promptly place them on customer’s doorsteps five minutes away, thus competing with Amazon and keeping revenue within the community.”
Robert Wyland of world-famous Wyland Galleries is also among the central supporters of the cooperative.
“I hold my faith in the amazing people of Laguna Beach who are my fellow artists, shop owners, and neighbors,” Wyland said. “I urge all to stand together today and in the future and insist on cooperation and support from within our own special community.”