Village Matters


Seeking a Traditional-Contemporary Downtown Blend

By Ann Christoph
By Ann Christoph

My Aunt Margaret begged before Christmas, “Don’t get me anything!” To her the important part of the holiday was getting together with the family for a nice meal. As a child I just couldn’t understand not wanting gifts for Christmas. How could you not want to open those colorful boxes and then carry off your new treasures to your room to revel over. Now I know exactly how she felt. I don’t want anything more. I don’t want to try to find a place for it, and try to put it to good use. Each new object is kind of like a new pet; I become responsible for it.

We’re all becoming more like Aunt Margaret they say. According to the realtors and members of the Chamber of Commerce that I have been volunteering with to assist on the Downtown Specific Plan, we as consumers are more interested in experiences rather than acquiring more items. And if we do want something we’re much more likely to quickly buy it online than to search it out in a store.

Thus we’re seeing big retailers consolidate and close stores. Big chunks of the retail market have been taken over by online businesses. We’ve been “over-malled” and across the country some are closing and being converted to other uses.

Those of us who have lived here for a while treasure our memories of Marriner’s Stationery, Bill Thomas Cameras, Klass Appliance Repair, Renaissance Bakery. But one by one those personalized service stores and others have closed their doors.

Where does that leave our downtown, a quaint assemblage of stores with a well-loved image? Still, the downtown is more than a shopping village by the sea. We like to think of it as a traditional small town center where residents meet as they go about their daily lives. The theory is that part of its charm for visitors is that they get to feel a part of life in Laguna, that they’re not just caught in a tourist trap of tchotchkes.

How do we foster a downtown that continues to meet this expectation within the changing economics of retail? The city has turned this dilemma over to San Diego-based MIG consultants, who have been working on the Downtown Specific Plan since 2014. In their initial public workshops they asked us, the residents of Laguna Beach, what we want. Here are some of the comments:

Too many boutiques – work to diversify the commercial center

Encourage more “practical” shops in downtown for locals

Keep commercial chains out of downtown

Resident-serving area with amenities for visitors

Authenticity and patina, with existing scale preserved (especially on Forest Avenue) Exciting and fun, with lots of variety, to be enjoyed by residents and visitors, by young and old

Vibrant, charming, inviting, friendly

Walkable, active, safe, exciting, diverse

What does a successful downtown mean to you? And how do we achieve a “resident serving area with amenities for visitors”? Does the new CVS Pharmacy proposal for the Laguna Drug location play a role? Or does the “chain” quality overwhelm the resident-serving offerings? Will restaurants be the predominant experiences offered?

The key to achieving a successful downtown blend, is understanding what needs we would like met, what experiences would we like to have, what kinds of items we would like to be able to buy right here in our own downtown. What offerings would inspire us to patronize downtown businesses?

Let’s hear the specifics from you! Please email me at [email protected]. I’ll report back and we’ll include your suggestions as our volunteer committee works on the Downtown Specific Plan documents. And you can talk about your ideas directly at the next planning commission meeting on the plan. Contact planner Wendy Jung [email protected] for dates of upcoming meetings.


Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member.


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