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?
- Ocean views
- Forest Avenue
- Strolling Forest Avenue and/or the beaches
- Natural Beauty
- Art Festivals
- Art Galleries
Second: What does Laguna look like on the ground when we get there?
- 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
- 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.