92037 impostors trade on La Jolla’s name

“The name ‘La Jolla’ has become world famous for luxury and excitement,” reads the website for the Vista La Jolla Townhomes. That’s a good bet to explain why builders chose that name for a condo complex located at 4464 Via Billiante IN UNIVERSITY CITY.

La Jolla Baking Company, La Jolla Biologics, La Jolla Appraisal Group, La Jolla Coach, La Jolla Hair Clinic, La Jolla Medical and Surgical, La Jolla Car Wash, La Jolla Mobile Auto & Truck Repair, PRN La Jolla Physical Therapy … the Light found more than 30 commercial concerns using La Jolla’s name without a corresponding La Jolla address. Most are located in University City, squarely outside its La Jolla Village Drive and Genessee Avenue borders with La Jolla.

Scott Cairncross gets more of a pass than most because, when he started La Jolla Audio 30 years ago, it was located at his La Jolla home. (Now it’s in Bay Ho off Santa Fe Street.)

“I couldn’t move down into La Jolla because there was no space that would allow me to do what I was doing at the time,” Cairncross said. “That’s when I moved down here, and it happens to be in the La Jolla Business Center. I don’t know if there’s a name on the place anymore, but there used to be a sign down the street.”

Cairncross admits keeping the name, however, to trade on the prestige.

“It’s the Jewel,” he said. “It’s like Beverly Hills. If you were right next to Beverly Hills, you’d probably want to adopt that name if you could.”

Indeed, since the 1960s, the City of Beverly Hills has had to contend with “adjacent” businesses glomming onto its name. And, frankly, it’s a compliment — but it can be a liability. By using a nearby neighborhood’s name to elevate their prestige, some lower-rent businesses could potentially drag that name down.

“We don’t have any issues with anyone calling where they live or work ‘La Jolla,’ ” said La Jolla Village Merchant Association executive director Sheila Fortune. “It’s not our purview. We only worry about the people who are in our district, the Village of La Jolla.”

Except that most of the La Jolla businesses contacted by the Light — ones who happen to also use La Jolla in their names — felt that it was an issue. Jordan Lee, a manager at La Jolla Vacuum Center, called the marketing practice “kind of a little scheme-y.”

“If you’re not in La Jolla and you call your business a La Jolla business, that is, first and foremost, misleading,” Lee said. “Businesses are supposed to be upfront, very transparent with people, and not really do those sorts of things.”

“It’s deceiving,” echoed Mark Smith, owner of La Jolla Shirt Company. “I think it’s a disservice to the public.”

Dr. Skip George, owner of La Jolla Sport & Spine, opined: “Yeah, it would be great if we could keep La Jolla in 92037 ... although my business hasn’t been impacted, I could see the point where other businesses want to maintain La Jolla as a brand.”

In addition to potentially misleading clientele into thinking they’re dealing with actual La Jolla businesses, these misrepresentations can pose a hazard to La Jolla’s image — and real-estate values.

For instance, due to a decision made long ago by one builder to call a University City apartment complex “La Jolla Crossroads,” most people who live in the Village, five miles away, got urgent e-mails, phone calls or Facebook messages on April 30, 2017. People wanted to know they were safe after — as many Internet stories misreported — one person was shot dead and seven others injured at a pool party “in a La Jolla apartment complex.”

Did anyone unfamiliar with the area think twice about relocating themselves or their businesses to La Jolla because of that event? No one can say for certain.

“I don’t know anybody who brought it up to me, but it would make sense,” said Eugenia Garcia, real-estate agent at Harcourts Prestige Properties, who explained a large percentage of her business involves settling newcomers into town. “It has to have a negative impact.”

Of course, nothing can legally be done about businesses that want to use “La Jolla” in their names. We are all free to name our businesses after any place we like — as long as there’s no trademark infringement.

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