THE RETAIL ROCKS OF LA JOLLA: Merchants share biz tips for half-century legacies
They’ve powered through seven recessions, competition from nearby shopping malls and now, they’re surviving the online shopping revolution.
When Harry’s Coffee Shop and Sigi’s Boutique held their grand openings in La Jolla, the Beatles were still together.
When Bowers Jewelers, Adelaide’s florist, Meanley & Son Hardware and Rangoni Shoes opened in La Jolla, the Beatles hadn’t met yet.
When Warwick’s opened in La Jolla, the Beatles weren’t even born.
What’s the secret to their business longevity? We gathered wisdom from their current owners and managers.
Established in La Jolla: 1939
Warwick’s, 7812 Girard Ave., is not only exceptional for La Jolla. It’s the oldest continuously family-owned and operated bookstore in the whole dang USA.
William T. Warwick opened the first Warwick’s in 1896 in Minnesota, moving it to Iowa — along with his wife and two sons — in 1916. Meanwhile, in La Jolla, E.L. Redding and his wife, Genevieve, founded Redding’s Book Store on Cave Street in 1902. In 1921, they relocated it to 7816 Girard Ave. After E.L. died in 1934, Genevieve operated Redding’s on her own. In 1939, William (who had a sister living in La Jolla) purchased Redding’s from Genevieve and renamed it Warwick’s. The two later married.
In 1944, a rent dispute sparked a move to 1038 Wall St. (now part of the building that houses Whisknladle). In 1950, the store was passed down to Charles Warwick and his wife, Louise, who moved it back to its current — and approximate original — location.
The third generation took over in 1964: Charles’ son, Bob, and his wife Marian. In 1976, they doubled the store’s size by acquiring the adjacent space previously occupied by Burriston’s Shoes. The couple’s daughter, Nancy, grabbed the baton in 2001 and still runs with it.
Success secrets: “A lot of it is excellent buying, a great location and having a range of price points,” Nancy says. “But it’s also having a regular customer base. We have customers who have been coming to the store since they were children, and now their own adult children are shopping here. I sometimes meet customers who knew my grandparents. A lot of employees have been here for 20 years, so people come here to talk with them. People see a lot of their old friends here. It’s kind of a community marketplace.”
Tips for newcomers: “Find items to sell that aren’t captured well by a picture online or that people are not going to find easily online,” Nancy says. “I do very well with whimsical and elegant gifts — things that are humorous or that people like to touch.”
Established in La Jolla: 1945
Ronald and Margaret Bowers started this jewelry store, 7860 Girard Ave., on Wall Street. In 1963, they moved it to its current location. About a decade later, Larry Combe came aboard — first as a designer, then as a bench jeweler. He eventually became a gemologist and took over the store with his wife, Sheila, when the Bowers officially retired in 1981.
Success secrets: “Being stubborn and being too old to learn new tricks,” Larry says, “both of which I’m teasing about but are pretty much fairly true.”
Tips for newcomers: “Well, the simple truth is that, of five businesses, three of them will fail within the first five years,” Larry says. “That’s always been true. But it’s not rocket science. Get a quality product, believe in what you sell and be consistent in the way you do business.”
Established in La Jolla: 1945
Adelaide’s, 7766 Girard Ave., was founded in 1936 as a roadside stand in Encinitas by Adelaide Phillips with a $6 investment. The florist opened her La Jolla store nine years later. It was kept in the family for three generations until Gina Phillips sold it in 2010 to Debbie and Steve Newell, who sold it in 2016 to veteran Adelaide’s florists Larry Anhorn and Jerry Parent.
Success secrets: “Stubbornness,” Larry jokes.
Tips for newcomers: “You have to be willing to be adaptable,” Larry says. “It’s an up and down market. Some days, the boulevard here is incredibly busyand other days, there’s nobody around, and I think that getting your presence out and known is important — getting involved in the community, anything you can do to get your name out.”
MEANLEY & SON HARDWARE
Established in La Jolla: 1948
Meanley’s, 7756 Girard Ave., is not only a name in its own right but has ties to La Jolla royalty. It was Nackey Scripps Meanley — Ellen Browning Scripps’ niece — who founded the store, along with Tom (her husband) and William (the “son” in the store’s name). And William’s son, Bob, still runs it. (In 1997, Meanley’s partnered with ACE Hardware but continues to be operated independently.)
Success secrets: “Owning the property as well as the business is a definite plus,” Bob says. “My grandparents and my father were able to buy some property here in town at the time, when it was still not that difficult to finance a piece of property, and that was helpful. But there’s a whole lot more to it than that. La Jolla really appreciates customer service and not every business understands that.”
Tips for newcomers: “Try to have products or services that customers want and back it up with good customer service,” Bob says. “I remember a guy tried to run a grocery store on this same block about 20 years ago, but he only had one cashier, so there would always be a line of customers waiting a long time to check out. People in La Jolla don’t like that.
THE ASCOT SHOP
Established in La Jolla: 1950
Jack Matzinger founded The Ascot Shop, 7750 Girard Ave., as a conservative haberdashery. Bill White was brought on — while he was attending San Diego State University — to help part-time as a salesman. He graduated to a buyer and eventually bought the business when Matzinger retired in 1980. In the mid-’90s, White did some grooming of his own — on his son, Andy, who initiated a gradual shift toward more modern clothing and who now manages the store.
Success secrets: “We have generational relationships — sons and grandsons of our original clients coming in the door,” Bill says. “They’re like family to us, and that’s what makes our business tick.”
Tips for newcomers: “I’d say good luck,” Bill says. “It’s not an easy business. You have to do everything right if you start a new store — from the merchandise mix, to the target market you have in mind.”
RANGONI FIRENZE SHOES
Established in La Jolla: 1952
Ugo Rangoni, a leather salesman in Florence, was one of the first Italian designers to export to the U.S. He founded his first store in 1937, moving it to La Jolla, 7870 Girard Ave., in 1952. Stateside sales exceeded one million pairs in 1973, the year Rangoni died and left his company to his 18-year-old son, Niccolo.
Success secrets: “We decided to come to the United States to brand our shoes instead of branding them in Italy,” says Rangoni store manager James Wyno. “In the last year, we built a great relationship with Nordstrom. We do 80 to 100 drop-ships for Nordstrom a month. We’re their warehouse. My vice president used to be the southwest buyer for Nordstrom, so he had a relationship with Nordstrom, and 80 percent of our employees came from Nordstrom.”
Tips for newcomers: “It’s kind of hard these days because of the internet and catalog services,” James says, “but get a good product and focus on business relationships.”
MARGARET’S DRY CLEANERS
Established in La Jolla: 1953
The Margaret was Margaret Clutter, who founded the store as Margaret’s Knit Blocking. (Knit-blocking is the process of smoothing out the stitches of a knitted item with steam or water.) It was three years after the death of her husband, and her son’s plane had been shot down in the Korean War. Not knowing his condition, Margaret wanted to be in a financial position to care for him when he returned.
For 34 years, Margaret’s knit-blocking shop also developed a reputation for cleaning and alterations. By 1987, Margaret (then 80) sold the business to John Horst and his wife, Barbara. Horst was a third-generation dry cleaner who started a dry-cleaning operation in Ohio 34 years earlier. John’s brother, Carl, and his sister-in-law, Tina, moved to San Diego to work for their former boss in the much-nicer climate. Tina has since retired, but Carl still runs the cleaning facilities at 7511 La Jolla Blvd. In 1989, John and Barbara’s son, Chuck, a professor of astronomy at San Diego State University, took over the day-to-day as president.
In 1999, Margaret’s purchased the parcel neighboring it to the south and built and expanded into the two-story brick building that stands there today.
Success secrets: “There are currently eight family members running it, and we all have a very diverse set of skills,” Chuck says. “I bring advanced technologies and techniques to the table, including a line of dry-cleaning software that we market. We just do things completely differently.”
Tips for newcomers: “Don’t,” Chuck jokes. “Seriously, the service industry is very tough and not something that can be McDonald-ized. We’ve been very aggressively approached to franchise and we’re often turning things down because we’re hyper-focused on what we know to do and what’s within our comfort zone.”
Established in La Jolla: 1968
This boutique — specializing in women’s European and American clothing lines, jewelry, accessories and gifts — was founded by Ann Peters and her daughter, Mary Ann Brown (who now owns the Fishery), exactly 50 years ago, so it just squeaked onto our list.
The first Sigi’s — whose name signifies “nothing in particular,” according to current owner Phyllis Lanphier, “it was just available” — was in a Pearl Street mini-mall that once occupied the lot where Pearl Car Wash stands today. It briefly occupied a house somewhere on Fay Avenue before moving, about 40 years ago, to its current location at 7888 Girard Ave.
Lanphier, the store’s former manager, purchased the store in 1990.
Success secrets: “We adapted to lifestyles that got more casual,” Lanphier says. “That’s helped us shift direction. And I think it’s also the combination of a great staff and a beautiful clientele that supports us in La Jolla, which we’re really grateful for.”
Tips for newcomers: “Because of all the department stores, the Internet and designers who are selling directly to clients, I would say whatever you choose to do, just follow your niche, do it well, know your competition but don’t worry about it, and listen to your consumer, because they pretty much direct you.”
HARRY’S COFFEE SHOP
Established in La Jolla: 1960
Harry Rudolph grew up in Brooklyn, working in his mom’s family-owned diner/five-and-dime in Flatbush.
Then the Dodgers moved after the 1957 baseball season, which changed everything for Harry, who once served as the team’s batboy and who was close friends with its general manager, Buzzie Bavasi. Instead of getting angry with his beloved team for deserting Brooklyn — the typical New York reaction — Harry decided instead to move along with them. Bavasi recommended three towns to Harry and his wife, Cathy, for establishing Harry’s Coffee Shop. They drove cross country and checked out Santa Barbara and Rancho Santa Fe first. Then, says their daughter, Liz Gotfredson, “as soon as they saw La Jolla for the first time, there was no doubt in their mind.”
For half a century, Harry turned the key to open his restaurant at 7545 Girard Ave. He made it a family business like his mom’s, involving all nine of his children in its operations. In fact, although Harry died in 2009, the restaurant is still co-owned and operated by his sons, Harry Rudolph III and John.
Success secrets: “Its loyal customers and just this amazing community,” Gotfredson says. “The people of La Jolla are such loyal people, it’s really incredible. You walk in now, it’s still owned by the same family and still looks so similar. People who don’t live in La Jolla anymore come back to visit, and stop in just so they can remember what (their childhood) was like.”
Tips for newcomers: “Treat all people who walk in your door with the highest level of respect, always,” Gotfredson says. “My parents always taught us that. My dad knew everybody’s name who ate at Harry’s. He would also remember where they were from. He was like an ambassador.”
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