Storefront need sprucing? City offers design, financial help to businesses in La Jolla and San Diego


Are you a small business owner looking to fix up your brick-and-mortar? Would you like to do some minor things that wouldn’t require a permit, but would give the place a facelift? There is a city program that offers design assistance and a grant to cover half the improvement costs, up to $8,000.

Alissa Gabriel, manager of the San Diego Storefront Improvement Program (SIP), made a presentation to the La Jolla Village Merchant’s Association during its May 11 meeting to remind business owners about the city initiative designed to help businesses fix up the fronts of their buildings. It’s a program that hasn’t had any La Jolla takers for years.

“The point is to give yourself a new look or introduce yourself to a neighborhood if you are new to a community,” she said, noting that program funds have been around for more than 20 years and have helped some 400 businesses.

“If you have a business of 25 employees or fewer, have a business located in the city, your storefront faces the right-of-way and you have a valid Business Tax Certificate (you qualify),” she said. “Both the property owner and the tenant can qualify for the program. But if you are the property owner, the conditions apply to your tenant.”

Improvements that are eligible under the SIP include awnings, lighting, change of exterior color/repainting, adding rocks or tile on the surface, landscaping, windows, sidewalk cafes, new address tiles/markers, lighting — anything that affects the way it looks from the street, Gabriel said. “It’s the stuff that wouldn’t require a permit, but just be something that helps a business get going.”

Here’s how it works

When business owners apply for the program, the first thing city representatives do is work with an architect to come up with a design concept for the frontage. After a few meetings, when the business owners are happy with the design, they go out and seek the bids and hire the contractors to carry out their work. Once the work is complete, the owners fill out a final application and attach the receipts and “they get a check from us,” Gabriel said.

Maintenance concerns or fixing broken items would not qualify for the funds. Applications also cannot be retroactive, she said, and all paperwork must be in hand before any construction takes place. “Otherwise anyone who has been to Home Depot lately would be calling me.”

She added that not a lot of businesses in La Jolla have applied in recent years, with only Wheat and Water Pizzeria in Bird Rock (currently implementing the work), and several years ago, The Cookie Lady (now closed), coming to mind.

Other projects eligible for grants include historic projects and multiple-tenant commercial projects. According to the city’s website, applicants for historic projects are awarded two-thirds of the eligible construction costs up to a maximum of $12,000. Historic photos showing how the property will be restored must be submitted. For multiple-tenant commercial projects, property owners with a commercial building that leases to multiple small business tenants could be awarded one-half of the eligible construction costs up to a maximum of $16,000. Each qualified tenant must have his or her own street-facing entrance.

For more information, including procedural details, applications and before/after renderings of projects in other communities of San Diego, visit

In other Village Merchants news:

— PDO to be dissolved? LJVMA president Claude-Anthony Marengo, who sits on the City’s Code Monitoring Team, reported that the team is evaluating, community by community, respective Land Development Codes and whether they can be simplified. For La Jolla, he said, that could mean integrating the terms of the Planned District Ordinance (PDO) into the Land Development Code. Marengo is a longtime advocate for the abolition of La Jolla’s PDO, due to its antiquated language and frequent derivations that come up during project applications.

“Even though I said last year I wanted to get rid of the PDO to force revamping, the revamping process is already happening by way of getting rid of PDOs,” he said. “The (City’s Code Monitoring Team) is going to take the PDO and look at it alongside the Land Development Code for items that have already been integrated, such as parking regulations, and take other major portions that are important to communities and retain those as sub-sections of the Code.”

Currently evaluating North Park’s regulations, Marengo said he would report back when the La Jolla Land Development Code is up for review.

— Mapping the District: As LJVMA’s Economic Development team continues its efforts to attract needed businesses to La Jolla, they will now have a map of La Jolla “districts” to better situate these prospective merchants.

Last year, team member Elsie Arredondo (later joined by Brett Murphy and Ike Fazzio), sent out a survey to residents and visitors asking what types of businesses they want to see in the Village. Currently evaluating the results and drafting a proposal to actively draw them to La Jolla, they also now have a map of groupings of similar businesses where appropriate businesses could go.

Drawn up by Marengo, the “districts” include an entertainment district where The LOT movie theater sits and where The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center will be located, and a “restaurant row” where restaurants are grouped. The maps were recently handed over to the Economic Development Team. “That’s going to make it easier for us to sell a certain type of business in a certain area,” Murphy said. “I think it’ll do really well.”

La Jolla Village Merchants Association meets 3 p.m. second Wednesdays at La Jolla Riford Library, 7555 Draper Ave.