Merchants mood merry for retail season ahead


By Dave Schwab

La Jolla merchants are seeing more spending this year than in the immediate past, restaurant bookings are up and vacancies are down.

“I see the La Jolla retail marketplace rallying and improving and the availability of quality retail space continues to diminish — vacancies are dropping,” said Phil Wise, a commercial Realtor with Collier’s International who specializes in the Village. “The vacancy rate for retail is under 6 percent in all of La Jolla. And a large majority of that 6 percent is among the 30,000 square feet in Wall Street plaza, the former Jack’s building.”

Terry Underwood, general manager of the Grande Colonial Hotel at 910 Prospect St. with its NINE-TEN restaurant, said bookings for November and December are “up substantially from a year ago, the restaurant continues to do very well and the holiday looks particularly good in terms of its pace for parties the first two weeks of December.

And for the new kid on the block, Eddie V’s steak and seafood restaurant, business has exceeded expectations, a good sign moving into the holidays.

General manager Ron Fabor said they expect their good fortune to continue as they fill spots for private parties and diners plan for guests and holiday outings, although the restaurant will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas days.

“We’re booking private parties all the way through the second week of January,” he added.

And In La Jolla Shores, Barbarella Restaurant and Bar is — known for its seasonal decorations — recently shifted from Halloween to Christmas mode.

Manager Alex Fatoohi said they are getting ready for lots of private parties, work function and family events. He’s encouraged by early signs of the season.

“People are spending,” he said.

While some still worry about how long it will take to restore La Jolla’s polish, members of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association are hopeful that the first steps of their five-year plan to brighten the business district with new rooftop lighting will attract shoppers.

And the La Jolla Town Council is pushing its “Shop Local, Shop La Jolla” campaign, encouraging merchants to offer discounts to Town Council members, be they residents or other business members. Learn more at

While community groups rally support, it seems at least some merchants are feeling positive about what the next month will bring.

Leon Chow, who recently joined forces with David Hinkel of Blue Abyss Photo to create C&H Photo at 7720 Fay Ave., says he’s seen slow improvement in business.

“We ended our summer on a really high note,” he said.

The same holds true for Brian Miller, owner of eight Geppeto’s toy stores, including the one at 7850 Girard Ave.

“I think it will be a good season — we’ve had a little bit of an (business) uptick over previous years — but I don’t know if it’s going to be the best (holiday season) in five years like some are predicting,” he said.

Even the early November rain hasn’t dampened the optimism of Debbie Newell, who bought Adelaide’s Florists and Decorators a year ago.

She hosted the store’s annual open house on Nov. 6 as the rain came down, but it “didn’t stop the festivities and it was a wonderful success … This for us is our biggest season by far as we do home decorating, and we’re already in full swing for Thanksgiving and beyond.”

Another shop that attracts holiday shoppers is Patina Gift Store at 957 Turquoise St.

Paul Holz, who owns the shop with is wife Barbara, said business is “improving significantly, at least in our baliwick. ... We just had our holiday open house and it was the best one we’ve ever had in 15 years of business.”

And, he added, shoppers “are buying heavily already.”