Merchants move to light up holidays

A contingent of Village business owners is on a mission: Spark up La Jolla’s holiday season.

Alfonso Fierro, who has owned the landmark local restaurant by the same name since 1971, organized a meeting through the La Jolla Town Council that drew about 20 merchants, restaurateurs, and gallery and hotel representatives.

The session focused primarily on Fierro’s idea to get all establishments to hang white holiday lights starting the day after Thanksgiving.

“I’ve been in La Jolla since 1962 when the holidays here were unbelievable,” Fierro said, recalling stores that were decorated, camels and horses on the streets. “People came from far away to enjoy the beauty of our city. … La Jolla is not like it used to be.”

Others chimed in about the state of the streets and sidewalks and decried the lack of visitors.

Town Council Trustee Darcy Ashley, who helped run the gathering, told the group that it’s possible the annual “Happy Holidays” sign on Torrey Pines Road and the streetlight decorations won’t be going up because Promote La Jolla can’t pay the $7,000 to get them repaired and installed.

The merchants’ group is in a financial bind because the city has not renewed its status as a city entity following the city auditor’s June report about how the group handled its funds. PLJ has traditionally been responsible for the holiday decorations and had supplemented street cleaning and trash pickup in the Village.

Ashley’s warning drew the focus back to keeping the holiday spirit alive and evolved into a call for a community fundraising effort such as the one that saved the Fourth of July fireworks.

“We have to do the overpass first. It would be a downer after all these years (not to have the sign),” said Seto Marselian, who owns Bistro Pazzo on Ivanhoe Avenue.

While no one stepped forward immediately to spearhead a campaign to raise the money, Justin Wilson, the food and beverage manager at La Valencia Hotel, said he believed that it could be accomplished by doing what Adam Harris and Deborah Marengo did when the fireworks were threatened: contact friends, neighbors and businesses through e-mail and social networking sites.

Ashley said the La Jolla Town Council Foundation could accept donations since it is a nonprofit entity. Send donations, with “Holiday Fund” in the memo line, to La Jolla Town Council Foundation. P.O. Box 1101, La Jolla, CA 92038.

The meeting inspired a lot of ideas about activities that could attract families and visitors to shop in the Village.

John Gisiger, general manager of Brooks Brothers, said he had been in other communities where gingerbread-decorating contests, with hotels and restaurants and children competing, were a big draw. He offered his store’s windows to display them.

Linda Jalving, of Jewels by the Sea on Prospect Street, suggested getting landlords who have vacant storefronts to put in decorations or at least allow others to hang the white lights.

Other ideas included recruiting schoolchildren to draw holiday posters for the empty stores and having musical performances on the streets throughout the holidays.

They also talked about ways to attract people to businesses that aren’t along the Christmas Parade route or having other events on Dec. 6 before the 2 p.m. parade start.