Guest Column

Judy Kelly

Leaving Laguna, But Still Glowing

By Judy Kelly

After being a part of Laguna Beach’s retail community for over six years, we are closing the Laguna Beach location of Pure Light Candle Studios this Friday, Oct.  26.

What may look like yet another tale of a small retailer closing up shop in Laguna is really a continuation on a journey of perseverance, of evolving with the winds of change and adjusting the sails through life’s experiences.

We opened the original Pure Light Candle Studio in memory of our very creative son Tyeson who passed away in 2006.  The vision was to offer a creative space where others could create-their-own candle and be surrounded with inspirational pieces to help heal and bring hope to others who were faced with loss.

The studio that began in the canyon grew into a place for gatherings with loved ones and friends, creating memories and making one-of-a-kind candles for fun while sharing a small meal or ceremonial celebration. This form of positive and artistic expression seemed to fit Laguna, and being able to assemble an artistic staff, many of them still-in-school LCAD students, has been a real treat.

In 2010, we decided to “come out of hiding” in the canyon for more exposure on Coast Highway and moved to The Collection at Laguna. After experiencing tremendous success with a second location in the Irvine Spectrum Center, this seemed like a natural.  Unlike our Laguna locations, the Irvine Center offered us great walk-by traffic, free parking, cost effective city expenses, landlord and marketing support with big and helpful signage.

As our studio evolved, we’ve appreciated the customers who have repeatedly come back to enjoy the creative experience and think of them as friends. Sharing in the stories, whether a childhood candle memory, or a story of loss, has truly helped to heal our family’s heart.  We’re told it has helped others facing similar challenges.

We are grateful and proud to have participated in the film “Behind The Orange Curtain,” to help educate parents and kids to the dangers of a prescription-drug epidemic. Parents beware. Please be sure to take the time to talk with your kids about this epidemic!

One of our greatest pleasures involves making candles with children at the schools. Anneliese’s students came regularly to the studio. And now, we’ve developed a Top of the World Elementary after school program too. We plan to expand the program at any school or outside group that expresses an interest.

When it comes to business we often wonder if the general public realizes how much it takes for a small retailer to open in a small town like Laguna Beach. As residents and shop owners here, we appreciate the importance of supporting local businesses that keep the town interesting, but it’s a delicate balance between paying high rents, navigating restrictive city rules, and attracting loyal patrons.

Bottom line, for the type of business Pure Light is, it’s out of our price range to do business within the city.  It’s exhausting to challenge city regulations, whether for a redundant use permit just for the privilege of doing business in an already allowable zone or to “hang our shingle” (sign) to let people know where our business is located. Frankly it’s just plain tough to deal with unhappy patrons who are frustrated with expensive and challenging parking costs. For the Laguna retailer, it’s common knowledge that Forest Avenue is the premier location, in spite of the fact that this seems counter intuitive with difficult parking and very high rents. Driving through town there are so many “For Lease” signs yet even Forest Avenue has its fair share these days. Now we are part of that migration so we will adjust the sails and move on.  Is it a sign?

Pure Light will reignite in the Laguna Hills Business Park in a similar fashion as the original canyon location, with classes, catering and celebrations supporting the arts, and warehouse price shopping, all while keeping the message positive but with an artist warehouse vibe.

Speaking of signs, does anyone else have issues with all the candidate signs heavily sprinkled all over our fine city? I wonder why this is allowed when an a-frame sign to direct business faces a fine. If restrictions are necessary, how about prohibiting landlords from renting private parking spaces at outlandish prices which are already paid for by tenants? High priced parking scares off visitors and residents without shopping permits.

Above all, the rewards have far outweighed the challenges. Thank you, Laguna!  May much light prevail in our lovely city and may you visit us in our onward journey as Pure Light heads for the (Laguna) Hills.

Judy Kelly remains a Laguna Beach resident.

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