La Jolla merchants group weighs fate of Haute Nights, return on events

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The La Jolla Village Merchants Association board grapples with parking, events and merchant participation at its Jan. 16 special meeting. Pat Sherman

By Pat Sherman

During a special meeting held Jan. 16 at La Valencia Hotel, the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) continued the strategic planning discussion it began during its regular monthly meeting the week prior.

Topics broached included the future of the association’s Haute La Jolla Nights music and shopping events, which LJVMA Executive Director Sheila Fortune said received dismal sponsorship last year.

Founding Haute Nights organizer Julie Matibag, who was instrumental in the success of the event during its first two seasons, has decided to end her involvement with the events, Fortune said.

While the first Haute Night of 2013 did well, even garnering a title sponsor, “after that it just turned off,” Fortune said. “We couldn’t get $250-$300 from people to save our lives. There are some businesses that still owe us money for participating (who) didn’t pay their sponsorship fees.” Last year’s final Haute Night, slated for November, was canceled.

Though most board members agreed that they liked Haute Nights, each monthly event, last year expanded from three to five, cost the LJVMA $5,000 apiece to produce, Fortune said.

LJVMA board members discussed pulling the event back to only summer months, holding it quarterly, or tying them to shopping-related holidays, such as Black Friday or American Express’s Small Business Saturday, “when people are already interested in shopping (and) merchants will already be staying open late,” as suggested by board member Justin Stewart.

Part of the problem, Fortune said, is that some businesses promising to participate by staying open for the duration of the evening event, closed shop early.

LJVMA board president Claude-Anthony Marengo said the events brought people near businesses, but not always inside the stores.

Fortune said the business improvement district the association oversees is so large it is difficult for the event to benefit all merchants, even though the LJVMA shifted the core of the event and outdoor location of bands several times.

Board member Nancy Warwick said that instead of using larger or louder rock-style bands, the event could transition to featuring more low-key entertainment suited to shopping experiences, such as jazz ensembles. “(Then) it becomes a whole shopping environment, where people are really enjoying the music but they’re not just standing there (outside listening),” Warwick said.

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La Jolla Village Merchants Association Board President Claude-Anthony Marengo (left) and board trustee Justin Stewart.

Stewart and others suggested adding additional “sensory stimuli,” such as sidewalk statues, art contests or a chili cook-off.

Board member Krista Baroudi suggested the association hand out maps listing the location of performers, as well as merchant giveaways or discounts. Though Haute Nights may not always bring in extra revenue for businesses, Baroudi said they leave people with a favorable impression of their evening in the Village of La Jolla. “I think La Jolla really needs to get its vibe back,” she said.

Marengo said the Village is in need of large anchor tenants, to promote connectivity in La Jolla and complete the retail puzzle.

“That’s going to be one of my goals this year, to try to solicit (anchor tenants) and find the connection points in our Village that makes the ‘L’ or the ‘T’ shape — and start talking to the owners to see if we can find a way to drag in an anchor that then makes the connectivity like a shopping center.”

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