Pandemic fosters retail creativity for boutique owner

Lisa McDennon is the owner of Nuance Boutique + Lifestyle in Downtown Laguna. Photo courtesy of Candice Dartez

By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent

Times of crisis require creativity, which no one knows better than Laguna’s retailers. Lisa McDennon has maintained a flourishing interior design business for 20 years, but she is perhaps best known for her boutique, Nuance Home + Lifestyle.  

Because construction continued throughout the pandemic, her design staff remained busy with projects, working remotely.  

“We were really slow for two weeks, then the floodgates opened,” she said. “We had lots of work already and then more came in on top of that. I Zoomed with clients and delivered fabric samples bundled up in cute packages. We invented clever ways for working around our situation.” 

However, on the retail side, Nuance’s merchandise sales fell to zero as the store was required to close and shipments ceased.

“We were at the mercy of the suppliers and shipping companies,” McDennon said. “They shut down and all custom manufacturing stopped.”

However, the pause created opportunity. Long-deferred tasks were attacked with vigor. The store’s e-commerce site, back-burnered for five years, sprang to life.

McDennon noted, “As many people experienced, supply chains were compromised. Basics like hand lotions and soaps were a scarcity in stores, and here we were with a shop closed up with amazing products sitting on shelves. So, we set up our website with all of our inventory. We created specialty care packages and gift boxes with thoughtful items at various price points and offered free local delivery.”

She added that here team FaceTimed in the store with customers to show product details and to help with their selections. Customers liked being able to treat themselves or send something practical to loved ones.  

“Having a store is not just about selling stuff,” she said. “It’s building and maintaining relationships. Creating the website was more about the ability to connect and provide support to our community.”

Then came the move.

“In February, moving was the farthest thing from my mind,” she said. “But our Old Pottery Place lease ended in April, so with the March shutdown, it was time to reassess. What if this lasted more than a few weeks? It wasn’t worth risking both businesses to try to keep the doors open.”

Owners of the Lumberyard complex rewarded McDennon’s loyalty as a 20-year tenant and helped streamline the move, which consolidates her upstairs design studio, where she employs a staff of seven, with an airy street-level retail space. 

Half the size but with abundant storage for merchandise, the new location allows for an uncluttered showroom aesthetic. With its vaulted ceilings, Nuance can showcase lighting fixtures McDennon designs for Hinkley Lighting. Masks are mandatory, but the space is well-ventilated and staffers meter the number of customers in the store at one time. 

“We love being on Forest in the heart of Laguna’s art and design community, and close to the Promenade. The concept of the Promenade is really exciting and I didn’t even know about it until after I signed my lease.”  

Change, she acknowledged, is scary. “but sometimes you just have to follow your gut. This felt right.”

Barbara is a Laguna Beach resident of 29 years. Her website is

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