Opinion: Musings on the Coast

By Michael Ray

An Expert’s Opinion of Laguna Retail

A long-time colleague recently visited a meeting of Liberate Laguna to share his opinion of the state of retail in Laguna Beach. He has worked his entire life in retail real estate with a background in large and small companies — some tiny and some master-planned communities.

He lives close to Laguna and he and his wife visit (getting here from North Coast Highway).  He also has worked as a consultant to other cities on reports such as the ones the city has commissioned on how to fix Laguna. Here is what he said about Laguna:

First: How do I convince my wife to drive with me to Laguna?

The answers:

  • Ocean views
  • Beaches
  • Forest Avenue
  • Strolling Forest Avenue and/or the beaches
  • Basketball
  • Volleyball
  • Natural Beauty
  • Sunsets
  • Art
  • Art Festivals
  • Art Galleries
  • Restaurants
  • Bars

Second:  What does Laguna look like on the ground when we get there?

The answers:

  • Shabby old (called quaint) buildings
  • Empty lots growing weeds
  • Faded paint/awnings
  • Old signage
  • Not a welcoming place
  • Laguna Firsters (we got our piece of paradise, stay away)
  • Lots of tourists
  • Traffic
  • Not enough parking
  • Closed movie theater
  • Closed Hotel Laguna
  • Old overgrown vegetation
  • Vagrants on the beach and in the parks
  • Old motels/small hotels
  • Strict local ordinances
  • No smoking
  • No noisy vehicles

He particular was struck by the hostility inherent in the flashing signs to the entrances to Laguna. They flash: No smoking, no loud noises, no drones, no, no, no. The signs are hostile. That is how we welcome visitors.

My colleague also asked why so much of downtown Laguna is shabby and vacant. When told that it takes retailers approximately two years to go through Laguna’s existing  permit process to open their business, according to the studies Laguna Beach has commissioned, he shook his head and laughed softly. Retailers simply will by-pass Laguna and go elsewhere.

About actually shopping in Laguna, forget it. He and his wife already have all the trinkets they want, and there is nothing left in Laguna retail worth buying.

Which leads me to comments about The Crystal Cove Shopping Center.

Fetneh Blake, who owns a high-end independent women’s clothing store (think fancy haute couture), used to be located in north Laguna. She recently moved to Crystal Cove, which has higher rent. How is her business doing? Just fine, thanks.

Crystal Cove has become a destination retail center and is rebuilding parts of itself to be more pedestrian-friendly, offer places to hangout, and have a coffee and play or work on your computer. Blake’s old Laguna shoppers still come and shop at her new place, but a new group of shoppers from Newport Hills, Crystal Cove and high-end hotels have been added to her clientele. Rolls Royces, Bentleys, BMWs, Mercedes and other luxury cars are in the parking lot. Seen any of them in downtown Laguna lately?

Think about it. While Crystal retail rocks, Laguna retail rots. And every time the city of Laguna Beach attempts to rectify our pathetic retail environment, the same old people show up and scream no, no, no — just likes the signs entering Laguna.

By the way, other than going to a bar or restaurant, when was the last time you shopped locally? A year ago? Two? Can you remember?

Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and lives in Laguna Beach. He is a real estate entrepreneur involved in many nonprofits.

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  1. Couldn’t have said it better myself! Time for less no and more yes. The old regime of this town has made us lose the twinkle we once had. Now we are just a bunch of glaucoma-ridden seniors screaming at the kids playing in the front yard.

  2. As a general observation, posters who use pseudonyms, first names, or initials in a hometown forum like this one undermine their credibility by implying they lack the courage of their convictions.

  3. Oh, I don’t know about that, Chris.

    If you want to calmly discuss issues, folks are glad to talk.

    But in a forum where the de riguer practice includes personality assassinations, vitriolic abuse, personal insults, tantrums and heated threats – who needs the exposure?

    Much love, Otis Criblecoblis

  4. “Rolls Royces, Bentleys, BMWs, Mercedes and other luxury cars are in the parking lot. Seen any of them in downtown Laguna lately?”

    Every day

    “While Crystal retail rocks, Laguna retail rots.”

    I wonder if Pier 1 employees would agree with that statement.

    “…when was the last time you shopped locally? A year ago? Two? Can you remember?”

    Sure can – a few weeks ago at Duet, my go-to for unique, European add ons to my wardrobe as well as gift items you can’t find anywhere else. Since then, there have been greeting cards, prescriptions and books – both from the library and the book store.

    Now I have a question for you – you mentioned the movie theater. Is it the City’s fault it remains closed? The point being, there are a myriad of reasons for businesses closing and others not moving in. Of course the City needs to do a better job of being business friendly but there is much more to the issue. I know one thing; the day we’re overrun by Rolls and Bentleys downtown will be a sad day for Laguna.


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