Merchants back new business group idea
All invited to Thursday meeting
By Dave Schwab
Staff WriterAsked what any new Business Improvement District (BID) should do in representing the Village, merchant Clair Thelin answered: Promote La Jolla.
“The problem is we need the big hitters like the Grande Colonial Hotel on the board again because the little guys like me, a lot of them have just themselves to run their businesses,” said Thelin, owner of tourist souvenir store La Jolla Cove Gifts at 8008 Girard Ave. #120.
The 75-year-old Thelin is an active member of the community’s Streetscape and Beautification Committee and was involved with Promote La Jolla (PLJ), the community’s nonprofit organization that ran the business district until it ran into problems with financial matters.
He said he’ll be attending First District Councilwoman Sherri Lightner’s La Jolla BID workshop from 4 to 6 p.m. ono Oct. 21 at the La Jolla Rec Center.
But Thelin’s not sure, given his time and age constraints, how involved he’ll be with any future La Jolla BID.
Thelin talked about where he felt PLJ went awry.
“It was because of their parking (meter advocacy) that caused so many problems and split the community,” he said.
Deborah Marengo, one of five remaining PLJ board members, agreed with Thelin that the parking issue started the division in the community and said a “clean slate” is the most important thing — a remark echoed by others.
Under the state-authorized business district concept, merchants in a specific area pay a fee, based on the size and location of their business, to the city. Under normal circumstances, the city selects a group to coordinate activities like beautification and marketing while the city maintains the purse strings.
When the city council refused to renew Promote La Jolla as the contractor a year ago, activities came to a halt for a while until the city’s Office of Small Business took over running the district on an interim basis. Activities, from replacing hanging baskets to planning the annual Gallery & Wine Walk, have recently resumed with four former PLJ directors acting in an advisory role.
Now Lightner said she believes is time to find out what merchants think about the idea of the business district: Do they want a new one, do they want one at all, and are they willing to get involved to make it a success?
At the Oct. 13 meeting of the interim LJBID, attended by only a handful of merchants beyond the board, the councilwoman applauded the hard work of those who have worked to keep activities going, but said she felt it was important to have La Jolla’s business people hear how other groups run their districts.
“This is not an organizational meeting,” she said, countering objections from PLJ President and BID adviser Rick Wildman who said efforts were already in the works to start a new group.
He also questioned why the advisers, who he said have done a lot in the past year without a budget, were not consented about the town hall meeting.
The councilwoman said her goal was to increase awareness and “hopes it will energize the merchants.”
Shannon Turner, a former PLJ board member who owns the Girard Avenue Collection, an antique and home décor shop at 7505 Girard Ave., feels the success of any such venture would depend on the involvement of business owners.
“You’ve got to have positive energy and good strong leadership from people who believe in the community,” she said.
Leon Chow, owner of Nelson Photo La Jolla at 7720 Fay Ave., who had a previous positive experience with Little Italy’s successful community benefit district, is a strong believer in them.
“La Jolla desperately needs a BID,” he said. “There needs to be some sort of guiding voice so all the merchants can have a unified voice to make it a very nice, presentable retail zone here. Otherwise we just become 150 individual merchants and we can’t get anything done.”
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Nancy Warwick, owner of Warwick’s Bookstore at 7812 Girard Ave. who was a past trustee of PLJ, is totally onboard with creating a new BID.
“It’s extremely important for the community and is a way for business owners to share interests and concerns …” she said. “I think what we’ve learned is that we have to strike a balance between those businesses that rely more on residents and those that are more tourist-oriented.”
Susie Greenwald, owner of Print-O-Mat at 1116 Silverado St. favors BIDs because “business owners really need the support and resources.”
But she has reservations about a new one mixing business interests with those of residents, as was discussed several months ago.
“The BID cannot be handled under the auspices of the town council,” she said. “Being a residential support organization, they do not have the knowledge on the business-oriented side. It (new BID) really needs to be structured more equilaterally.”
Keith Kelman, owner of K. Nathan Gallery, art dealer at 7723 Fay Ave., has a long history of past involvement with PLJ. At present, he said he wouldn’t be interested in being on the board of a new BID. But he did offer a few suggestions for what needs to be done.
“The most important thing for any group to do is concentrate on the business community at-large, keeping it clean, improving the hardscape, because when people enjoy their visit to La Jolla — they come back,” he said. “We should employ someone to walk around town with one of those grabbers and pick up trash and cigarette butts, sort of be an emissary.”