Local tension increases amid fears of recession

When La Jolla’s business leaders gathered last week at the La Valencia Hotel, the Board Room seemed hot and overcrowded due to the presence of an invisible elephant. The unwelcome beast was, of course, the burgeoning recession of 2008.

Retail sales are faltering everywhere, including the tiny boutiques of La Jolla’s once-thriving commercial district.

Members of the business improvement district known as Promote La Jolla were noticeably on edge as they discussed ideas to increase consumer traffic during the crucial holiday retail period.

To promote more foot traffic, a group of more than 80 merchants have joined the “Tuesday Nights in the Village” promotion in which participating retailers stay open until 8 p.m. each Tuesday through Dec. 23.

Other village shop owners have signed on to the “Find the Jewel” campaign which entices shoppers to look for bargains on merchandise marked by a symbolic hanging “jewel,” which is La Jolla’s nickname.

Two weeks before Christmas, neither of these grassroots marketing efforts appeared to buoy the spirits of Promote La Jolla board members, although some merchants say the Jewel promotion is a draw for shoppers.

Jennifer Clark of Maudlin Interiors - one of the slate of six new board members who will be seated in January - said it’s important to come together as “one brainpower” to find solutions.

‘Be concerned’

George Hauer, proprietor of George’s at the Cove, praised efforts to bring retail and restaurants together and cautioned about the loss of merchants during the downturn.

“The landlords should be concerned about this,” Hauer said.

Among board members, hopes are high for a good turnout at the annual San Diego Restaurant Week promotion from Jan. 11-16, which offers the public a chance to sample La Jolla’s premiere eateries for $20 to $40.

Hauer suggested that restaurateurs work with merchants to promote their shops to diners. There was also a suggestion to ask retailers to stay open later during Restaurant Week.

But newly elected board member Daisy Fitzgerald of Ark Antiques, who will be seated in January with five other new members, said such annual promotions wouldn’t solve the Village’s problems, which are more deep-rooted.

Something new

“What made La Jolla unique has dwindled away,” she said. “There needs to be a new reason why people come to La Jolla.”

The board members are expected to push for a change in direction for the BID when the board mulls future strategy at its annual retreat on Jan. 14.

And while the economy challenges all Village businesses, the commercial district’s perennial problems - traffic congestion and a lack of parking - were sore subjects that flared up once again.

Parking again?

A consensus of board members said they would welcome a change that would eliminate 1-hour parking zones in favor of 90-minute parking throughout the village.

“You can’t eat and shop (on Girard Avenue) unless you are sprinting,” said BID president Deborah Marengo. A universal 90-minute parking zone has been successful in the La Jolla Shores neighborhood, she added.

The change in parking regulations for the Village were considered by the La Jolla Traffic and Transportation Board at its meeting Dec. 15 at the La Jolla Recreation Center.