By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach City Council and local business owners hope outdoor displays, portable signage and window displays will help attract more customers to downtown merchants, who generally report a steady holiday sales season.
The signage previously prohibited under current city code will be permitted under a six-month trial period March 1 to Aug. 1.
“It’s a very important issue for a lot of merchants, the fact that the use of the signs for businesses to attract more people in,” Norm Grossman, representing the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, told the council. “It’s becoming a tougher and tougher retail environment.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, council members also asked business owners how they fared this holiday season. Chamber president and Rubel’s Jewelry store owner David Rubel told them he was hearing a mix of results from local retailers.
“Most of them were happy with what they did,” Rubel said. “I would say it was flat or even.”
Just down the street from Rubel’s Jewelers on Forest Avenue, Hobie Surf Shop did so much business they sold out of many lines of clothing in the store, including pajamas, flannels and jackets. According to staff, they had to restock with sale merchandise from a warehouse to compensate. At Laguna Surf and Sport, located at 1088 S. Coast Highway, key holder Timmy Gamboa saw much of the same.
“Sales were better, we did more than last year,” said Gamboa. “We put a little more
passion into making sure we didn’t run out of sizes, so that’s been really good for
Local sales tax of $5.6 million makes up 9% of the city’s total general fund revenue budget. Almost 25% of that is generated through general retail sales, and 58% is generated by food sales, said Administrative Services Director Gavin Curran. The remainder tips in from transportation, construction, and business-to-business sales.
Meredith Dowling, the chamber’s executive director, said year-end sales data from retailers was not yet available. But that special events such as Hospitality Night, held on the first Friday in December, and Small Business Saturday, held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, help drive home the message to shop local during the holidays.
“I think the businesses are excited about those kinds of opportunities,” Dowling said.
“Next year one of the roles the Chamber can play is getting that word out even earlier.”
Although nationally Small Business Saturday saw a dip in overall dollars spent at small
businesses this year, Laguna business owners who took part seem to like the concept.
“I don’t know if it does anything personally for my bottom line, but it is important to be a part of the community,” Rubel said. “It many not be a big monetary benefit, but it is a
Carmelita Green manages Troy Lee Designs at 380 Glenneyre St., a store open for six years in that spot selling mountain bike and moto gear primarily for men. Though she
wouldn’t give specific figures, Green said store sales made double-digit increases over the same time period last year. She attributes a lot of it to the way she says small businesses need to evolve to attract and keep customers coming back and shopping small.
“Today in retail, you can’t just be a store anymore,” Green said. “You have to create an experience for the customer. It’s more about building relationships and building community.”
Further down Coast Highway, sales were up at decor store The Beach House at 1524 S.Coast Highway. But not by leaps and bounds.
“It was a pretty good season, about the same as the same as the year before,” said Beach House owner Melanie Harrison. “A lot of people are saying they like to support local shops as opposed to going to malls. That’s always good to hear.”
The new outdoor signage concept for business approved this week will allow businesses to use small sandwich board signs previously approved only for restaurants. City planners maintain the signs should be in character with each building’s architectural style. Green says exploring new ways to get customers in the door is essential to adapt to today’s retail environment.
“If you are doing the same thing you were doing 20 years ago, you are going to struggle
because the times have changed,” Green said. “When you treat it more than just a store that sells stuff you see people wanting to come in and support you.”