Coller to head merchants group, calls for more to get involved

The board of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association awaits the swearing in on Thursday. Photo: Kathy Day
The board of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association awaits the swearing in on Thursday. Photo: Kathy Day

By Kathy Day

Staff Writer

In one of his first acts as president of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association Phil Coller made a simple, but direct statement: “The more people who get involved the more we can do.”

The group plans to seek a contract from the City Council to operate the La Jolla Business Improvement District, a role formerly held by Promote La Jolla. The district covers about 1,200 businesses in the Village.

Coller, who owns Everett Stunz with his wife, has been a leader in pulling the group together and was elected unanimously.

“There has been a lot of hard work by a lot of people — board members, business people and members of the community,” he said, adding that it’s now critical “for anyone involved to please approach others and get their involvement.”

The 14 new board members and consultant Mike McLaughlin, hired by the city to help organize the group, were joined by an audience of about 20. Among them were two city staffers, Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, her aide Erin Demorest, and representatives of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Also on hand was former PLJ president Deborah Marengo and Maryam Bakhsh, PLJ’s bookkeeper.

Lightner led the swearing-in ceremony; Leon Chow (Nelson Photo Supplies), whose name was drawn to break a tie, was absent and will be sworn in later.

Then the board got down to the business of electing Coller along with Nancy Warwick (Warwick’s Bookstore) as vice president, Tom Brady (La Jolla Cove Cottage Rentals) as treasurer and Sheila Fortune (Aquamoree) as secretary.

They also adopted by-laws, a resolution to form a tax-exempt 501(c)(6) nonprofit and a resolution to proceed with a seeking the contract with the city. Next came approving a concept budget, outlining allocations of an estimated $365,000 for fiscal year starting in July.

Meredith Dibden-Brown of the city’s Office of Small Business, which oversees the business districts, said she and Lightner’s staff would look for ways to give the group access to funds currently in the LJBID account before the formal contract process is complete. She said it was possible they could have some money to work with by May.

Many raised their hands to volunteer for marketing, beautification and special events committees. But it was Patrick Edwards, of the North Park business district and the San Diego Business Improvement District Council representing the 16 similar groups across the city, who noted a key element was missing: the need to “bring merchants here.”

The strongest BIDs are those with strong economic development efforts, he sai, explaining that those groups have looked at the mix of businesses that will attract shoppers and diners and worked with landlords and businesses to “seed” new establishments.

“I want to push you in that direction,” said Edwards, who has attended many of the LJVMA formational meetings. “Special events are ancillary.”

At the urging of Brady, the board members agreed to seek out information from well-established business districts like those in North Park and the Adams Avenue neighborhood. That group was the only formal committee named at the meeting; others will be established after that group reports.

Also on the future agenda will be decisions on whether to hire staff and opening an office, two points Coller said are "absolute requirements" because it will be impossible for volunteers to run the organization.

The next Village Merchants Association meeting will be at 8 a.m. March 9 at a location to be announced later.



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