By Pat Sherman
La Jolla’s coastal weather helped turn more than Village landscaping green this summer. Village merchants, hoteliers and restaurateurs by and large had a profitable summer, though overall, business may have been down slightly from the previous summer — particularly in terms of local consumer dollars, interviews with business owners reveal.
Hotel tax revenue from June 1 to Aug. 31 in La Jolla was $4,174, 821 — down slightly from the same period in 2011, which was $4,268,288. (A representative from the office of San Diego’s independent budget analyst said this summer’s figure should increase slightly, as receipts are still trickling in for August).
Eric Lund, vice-president of community relations for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (ConVis), said summer business at San Diego County hotels was better than in 2010, though he said the region has “a way to go to get back to 2009 levels, when we peaked.”
“That’s when we initially lost a lot of group and leisure travel,” due to the down economy, he said. Lund said hotel occupancy in La Jolla for July — the most recent month ConVis has figures for — was about the same as 2011, though La Jolla hoteliers saw a 6.9 percent increase in average room revenue (accounting for more expensive rooms and incidentals like room service and spa treatments).
“La Jolla was looking really good during the summer, and really good as a sub-group,” Lund said.
From July to September, La Valencia hotel on Prospect Street had an occupancy rate of 83.05 percent and an average room rate of $372 — up from 79.35 percent and $353 last summer, or about a 4-5 percent increase each.
“We contribute this growth to an increase in leisure travelers this summer, compared to last,” as well as recent renovations to the hotel, La Valencia’s sales and marketing coordinator, Kristen Poole, said.
Krista Baroudi, general manager of La Jolla Cove Suites on Coast Boulevard said she saw a boost in occupancy of as much as 20 to 30 percent this summer — an increase she attributes to the exposure the hotel received while appearing on the Travel Channel show, “Hotel Impossible,” which first aired May 21, and seven or eight times more this summer.
While business typically slows in mid-August when travelers start to return home to accommodate school schedules — Baroudi said she saw only a modest decline in occupancy going into September.
“They (The Travel Channel) did a phenomenal job as far as exposing La Jolla as this amazing destination for vacations, and highlighting what the Village has to offer. ... I would like to think that every (business) benefits,” she said.
Baroudi said her recently renovated 250-square-foot budget rooms were advertised online for the first time this summer at $99 each, attracting $25,000 in bookings within the first 12 hours. “Once we got under the $100 price-point we could really see how many people are shopping with a budget in mind,” she said.
Ringing it up at the register
Though final summer sales tax figures will not be available until December, sales tax in the Village was up this year in the second quarter (April-June) from $433,303 in 2011 to $446,688 this spring. (A similar percentage sales tax increase over last year was also seen in the first quarter of 2012).
George Hauer, owner of George’s at the Cove on Prospect Street, said 2011 was his most profitable year since opening in 1984. “We sat there with our jaws dropped ... throughout 2011; it just seemed so outlandishly busy,” Hauer said. “We have no explanation for it.”
This summer’s sales have been down about 2 percent he said. “We have two very large, new restaurants in town, Eddie V’s and Herringbone, so people are obviously giving them a try,” Hauer said, also noting economic pains in the U.S. and abroad. “It’s not all rosy out there,” he said.
East of Prospect, Kevin Smith, owner of Extreme Pizza on Kline Street, said his business was down overall from 2011, though he noticed an influx of visitors from outside California, as well as more conventioneers.
“The local clientele was sporadic,” Smith said. “I don’t think there were a lot of residents who were coming in on a frequent basis.”
Smith said he also noticed customers ordering less, sharing plates and tipping less.
Phyllis Lanphier, owner of Sigi’s Boutique on Girard Avenue, said she had decent sales this summer, though she noticed fewer customers walking through the door.
Lanphier said about 80 percent of her business is local — and these days, she’s seeing a different kind of tourist walk through the door.
“La Jolla’s become more of a place to just come in, eat and go to the beach,” she said. “It’s a whole different way of consumerism. For us, as an established, higher-end women’s clothing store, we’re not seeing the kind of customer who specifically came to La Jolla to shop.”
Lanphier attributes the decline in La Jolla as a shopping destination to the economy, as well as a general aesthetics in the Village, such as sidewalk and street maintenance.
“The town doesn’t look good,” she said. “I think that affects business.”
Hauer said clustered revitalization of neighborhoods such as Little Italy, Hillcrest and Del Mar offer people more dining and shopping choices closer to home.
“There are a lot of good reasons in people’s minds not to travel far from home,” he said.
La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) board president Phil Coller said he is hearing from merchants that business this summer was not quite as strong as last, following a steady decline during the past few years.
“Touristy-type venues on Prospect I think did reasonably well, but ... the general business level in the Village was not good,” he said. “Walk down Girard Avenue today and see how many parking places are open.
“I don’t think the election’s helping,” Coller added. “It’s creating a nervous atmosphere.”
To attract more visitors, Coller said the association is advocating for the city and business owners to spruce up the Village’s common areas and repair its crumbling sidewalks, as well improve vehicle access in and out of La Jolla.
The Merchants Association also plans to print 150,000 maps of the Village, to be distributed at 500 locations countywide, including hotels, visitor centers and the airport.
Bob Meanley of Meanley & Son ACE Hardware on Girard, said his summer sales were “substantially” better than last year, particularly during August and September when the heatwave resulted in an increase in fan sales.
In general, the average ACE Hardware store in San Diego saw a summer sales increase of about five percent over the same period last year, while Meanley & Son had about a 10 percent increase in sales over summer 2011, he said.
Jennifer Van Galder, owner of Maudlin home furnishings and interior design on Fay Avenue, said she felt “the town seemed busier and livelier.”
“I think people are hoping that the economy is turning around, and they’re maybe getting out and enjoying life a little more than they were in the past.”
However, as an interior designer, Van Galder said she is doing “a lot more work for less (money) in this economy,” and having to find fabrics and styles that match customers’ tastes, at a lower price point.
People have “less disposable income and are more cautious with their expenditures,” she said, noting that vendors are “reacting in kind” by introducing lower-priced goods.
Leon Chow, co-owner of C&H Photo on Fay Avenue, who promotes business openings as a member of the Merchants Association’s board of directors, said he is seeing a lot of businesses opening and hearing fewer “sad stories” about people being laid off from work.
However, Chow also sees a lot of vacant commercial space around town. Though he is not certain how many businesses the Village loses per month, he said it has to be happening.
“The property is turning over somehow,” he said.