Locals turned out in droves to greet Santa and see the “new” pepper tree light up at the 50th annual Hospitality Night last Friday, Dec. 1.
The change of venue from the front lawn at City Hall seemed to trouble no one, and even appeared to benefit some.
Severe pruning of the City Hall pepper tree earlier this year due to decay and disease prompted the switch to a different venue for Santa’s arrival. Another tree in the Pepper Tree parking lot between Ocean and Forest Avenues served as a substitute backdrop for the usual festivities, which are organized by the Chamber of Commerce. Downtown streets were closed to traffic.
While Santa’s “house” remained in its customary position on Forest Avenue, the line of folks waiting to see Santa was moved from the sidewalk to the street. “It made a huge difference,” said Deanna Frieze, owner of the Sunny Days clothing store. “I had the best Hospitality Night in four years,” Frieze added. In previous years, the line waiting to see Santa blocked the store entrance. This year, she said was “super successful,” as were her Saturday sales, though she declined to provide specific figures.
While city sales tax figures are not immediately available, most merchants surveyed seemed pleased with results from Hospitality Night, the informal start of the local gift-buying season.
Regina Wilson, manager of the Hobie store, said their “numbers were up” and speculated that relocating a band to the front of the store from the rear as in past years may have played a part. Hobie traditionally hosts activities such as face painting, seasonal treats and live music, which act as a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs. “It’s normally a loud, party-like atmosphere, but this year there was more shopping too,” Wilson added.
Around the corner, Pete Surprenant owner of North Menswear at 380 Glenneyre, believes live music helped draw shoppers to his store as well. “We had a local band in the breezeway between our store and our neighbor, Troy Lee Designs,” Surprenant said. “We’ve been here four years and Hospitality Night has always been great for us,” he added.
Michael McFadden at Rock Martin Jewelers is a Hospitality Night fan. “This year’s sales were the same as any other year. Usually people come in for gift ideas and return later to make a purchase,” he said.
Donna Keats of Casual Laguna and Martine Venzal, owner of Duet, both reported “better than last year” sales at their Forest Avenue apparel stores, though neither provided specific sales figures.
Stores near Forest Avenue also benefited from the one-night influx of visitors and residents. A Tommy Bahama employee said the store netted $200 more than a year ago and Tight Assets manager Kimberly Oswald, who lacked final figures, described sales as “really good.”
She said store-owner Heidi Miller, a recent kidney donor, stopped in briefly and “everyone wanted to come in and wish her well.”
Officials at Visit Laguna Beach and the Chamber of Commerce rely only on feedback from merchants to judge the financial success of Hospitality Night, but some merchant’s individual efforts may have contributed.
Frieze, Sunny Days’ owner, posted flyers in her store from the 3/50 project website.
Founding 3/50 president Cinda Baxter promotes independently owned businesses. She urges shoppers to pick three favorite local businesses to patronize regularly. She posits that if half the employed population spent $50 each month in locally owned independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue.
By patronizing local businesses, $68 of every $100 spent returns to the local community. By comparison, only $43 stays in the community when spent at a chain store. And, the flyers note, online shopping does not benefit local communities at all.