La Jolla, Del Mar: Rebounding retail markets face their own challenges

Westime, a luxury watch store, is set to open soon in La Jolla. Photo: Kathy Day
Westime, a luxury watch store, is set to open soon in La Jolla. Photo: Kathy Day

By Joe Tash

Positive signs are evident in both the La Jolla and Del Mar central business districts, although the two villages are still feeling the effects of the 2008 recession.

In La Jolla, the vacancy rate among restaurant, office and retail buildings is down from a year ago, said veteran commercial brokers familiar with the village, although advertisements for vacancies still adorn windows on many blocks.

Meanwhile, to the north in Del Mar, sales tax revenue is up — as it is in La Jolla — and occupancy of retail storefronts appears to be relatively stable.

Interviews with business leaders, brokers, property owners and city officials paint a picture of two central business districts whose prospects appear to be improving, even as each faces unique challenges on the road to economic growth.

“I’m very optimistic. Just in the last four or five months, activity has really picked up. What’s happening is people are repositioning themselves for the future, and optimistic that things are going to get better and the worst is behind,” said Mike Slattery, a commercial broker with Cassidy Turley BRE Commercial, who specializes in the La Jolla Village market.

More than meets the eye

Slattery said appearances can be deceiving when it comes to the economic health of the Village. For example, he said, some properties have been leased, but the retail or office businesses have not opened yet for a variety of reasons. He said he is encouraged by the number of contacts he receives from businesses wanting to locate in La Jolla and the relatively small number of vacancies available to them.

“La Jolla is still in my opinion a very strong and viable market,” Slattery said.

Phil Wise, senior vice president with Colliers International, produces a quarterly report on vacancies in La Jolla’s downtown area.

“The vacancies have gone down quite a bit — the market’s good,” said Wise.

As of the second quarter of 2011, which ended June 30, the total retail square footage in the Village was 1,375,642, with a total vacancy of 98,963 square feet, or 7.19 percent.

New in La Jolla

Among recent additions to the La Jolla restaurant and retail scene are the Eddie V’s restaurant on Prospect Street and Panera Bread at Girard Avenue and Wall Street, in the building that formerly housed Jack’s restaurant. The majority of the Jack’s building, where a replacement nightclub and restaurant had been planned, still stands vacant, however.

Around the corner from Panera, on Herschel Avenue, a major restaurant has signed a lease for a building that has stood vacant for 30 years, said Wise. The building on Herschel Avenue near Wall Street long owned by the late Helen Smith.

Wise would not identify the restaurant, but various media reports, including one on Monday in the Union-Tribune confirm that it will be operated by Brian Malarkey — a Top Chef star who formerly owned Oceanaire — and Jim Brennan. The pair owns Searsucker downtown and recently opened Burlap in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center. Their new restaurant, set to open in the Spring, will focus on seafood and be called Herringbone.



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