New Merchant Class on the Rise

North's owner Pete Surprenant belongs to a burgeoning group of young, home-grown entrepreneurs catering to locals. Photo by Jody Tiongco
North’s owner Pete Surprenant belongs to a burgeoning group of young, home-grown entrepreneurs catering to locals. Photo by Jody Tiongco

Some shoppers trade a good night’s sleep for Black Friday deals, rising in the wee hours to snag the best big box bargains of the year. Others chose a different kind of bargain, trading rock bottom prices on mass-produced products for the luxury of sleeping in and then sauntering no farther than their own backyard to peruse items thoughtfully selected by proprietors who stand behind the quality of their wares and who might also be their neighbors.

Those seeking the latter bargain might even skip shopping entirely on Friday, and instead venture out to revel in a less-well-known event, Small Business Saturday. North Menswear, for one, just opened at 380 Glenneyre St., will offer 10 percent off to anyone with a same-day receipt from another local business.

North’s owner Pete Surprenant belongs to a burgeoning group of young, mostly home-grown entrepreneurs catering to locals who are banking on a demographic that shares their own desire to find quality merchandise and services close to home.

As if on cue during a visit to the shop last week, Terry Kiminta, general manager at the nearby Orange Inn, stopped in saying the shop provided “much needed” and “accessible” clothing for locals like himself.

Surprenant said his concept for original, traditional men’s sportswear filled a void in Laguna, providing quality functional clothing that he sources as much as possible from U.S. manufacturers such as Imogene + Willie heavy denim jeans made from mills in North Carolina, or a Taylor Stitch shirt handmade in San Francisco.

Likewise, Laguna Beach native Yoshi O’Connor, who recently quit her day job to dive full-time into Floral Fete, a concept

Local entrepreneur Yoshi O'Connor of Floral Fete providing tips on Thanksgiving flower arranging, a workshop marketing initiative. Photo by Rebecca Judy
Local entrepreneur Yoshi O’Connor of Floral Fete providing tips on Thanksgiving flower arranging, a workshop marketing initiative. Photo by Rebecca Judy

she launched four years ago, counts on locals to support her business designing flowers for weddings and parties as well as creative small party-planning.

“Laguna may be a high-end destination location to many, but to me it’s still a small town with locals who are eager to maintain our unique town by supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs,” said O’Connor, who shares shop/office space with childhood friend and fellow entrepreneur Rebecca Judy, an aspiring professional photographer who still keeps a day job managing a local law office.

The two women operate out of Sourced Collective, 950 Glenneyre St., where a network of like-minded creative individuals involved in interior, fashion and event design share space.

When O’Connor crossed the threshold at the collective’s grand opening, she recognized a home for herself among other creative people that “could awaken my dormant imagination.”

Even as city leaders continue to press for ways to lure resident-serving businesses to town, a new generation of merchants, many of them home-grown locals, have begun businesses to serve themselves.

Elizabeth Ferrari, a case in point, opened Green Tree General Store at Coast Highway and Anita Street because she couldn’t find the eco-friendly items she wanted for herself and her family without leaving town or shopping on line. She grew up on Oak Street, frequenting Adolfo’s with friends. After leaving for college and later working in Newport Beach and Los Angeles as an event planner, Ferrari returned to her hometown when her daughter turned 5. “I wanted her to have the same experience I did growing up…,” Ferrari said, as well as eco lunch gear.

Green Tree boasts a variety of the reusable stainless steel lunch boxes, along with other products touted to “embrace pure, hip, sustainable living,” including craft bitters and cocktail mixers, mason jar mugs, non-toxic beauty products and, notably, a build-your-own air plant terrarium bar.

To engage the community, Ferrari also holds workshops demonstrating her products. O’Connor, too, lures people in for a shared experience. Last week, for instance, while Ferrari held a wreath-making workshop in her boutique, O’Connor held a Thanksgiving flower arrangement class a few blocks away at Sourced Collective.

These 30-somethings share more than an entrepreneurial flare. They share a common Laguna heritage, having all graduated from Laguna Beach High School between 1997 and 2002, many with roots going back even farther. Of the new merchants, only Surprenant grew up elsewhere, but he holds a different advantage, married to Krista Krach, a fourth-generation Lagunan.  They live in a South Laguna home built by her grandfather.

“I am happy to follow in my family’s footsteps,” says Judy, whose entire family lives and works on or near Glenneyre Street. She endorses spending money within city limits, rather than at malls or online, to help local businesses thrive. “We can’t survive these high rents without a lot of local support. And we can’t continue to be a creative, fun and progressive city if we don’t support each other,” she insists.

And these entrepreneurs, all connected to each other by a degree or two of separation, do just that. Surprenant’s wife graduated from LBHS in 1999 with Bret Englander, Nick Sheridan, and Dan Wacholder, the founders of Cerno, the cutting edge LED lighting design and manufacturing company based in Laguna Canyon. Cerno installed the lighting for Ferrari’s (LBHS 2001) store.  Shannon O’Neil (LBHS 2002), who launched Cargo Creative, which styles merchandise, provided the merchandising for Green Tree and Jessica Watson’s (LBHS 2002) clothing and accessory boutique, The Shop, just a block south.

“We follow each other on Instagram and through the social media,” said Ferrari, adding that when live music is needed for special events in their shops, they look no further than fellow alumni Brian Roark and Andrew Corradini.

As a child, Judy recalls buying her first camera in town and developing countless rolls of film at Bill Thomas’ camera shop, once an Ocean Avenue fixture, and the urging of now retired teacher Peter Tiner to pursue degrees in photography. “I’m always disheartened by out-of-towners that come in and just want a business in Laguna without knowing the people and city intimately,” she said. “My generation is at that point where we have these book/street smarts and can employ them within our community confidently.”

“We hold the advantage.”

Time will tell if she’s right.


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