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Summer business earns mixed reviews from merchants

Village merchants report this year’s summer tourist season got off to a slow start but rebounded nicely as we inched toward fall.

“For my own business, I had a good summer,” said Deborah Marengo, president of Promote La Jolla, the community’s business improvement district. She owns Goldfish Point Cafe on Coast Boulevard.

“A lot of the restaurant operators I know had a good summer,” she said. “The only difficulty I experienced this year, compared to past summers, was schools have gone back earlier this year than in the past, and we have had a little bit of a drop off the last two weeks before Labor Day.”

Statistics from the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, which tracks regional tourism, show tourist traffic is up the past couple months compared to 2005.

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“We haven’t seen a drop in tourism from Arizona and greater Los Angeles,” Marengo said, adding the unusually hot summer likely had a positive effect on beach traffic.

Janet McCulley, co-owner of Muttroplis pet boutique on Girard, was happy with this summer’s tourist-season business.

“We had a really great summer,” she said, “though we had a later start to our summer traffic, which really increased in July. Year over year, we’re up double digits compared to last year.”

McCulley saw more families coming into her store in the early part of the summer. More couples came later on in the season.

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“We saw a lot of Europeans later in July and August,” she said, “and we saw a lot of folks from the East Coast.”

Muttropolis hosted pooch parties, ice cream socials and fund-raisers for animal-oriented organizations to entice customers into the store.

“It’s a fun way for people and pets to socialize,” McCulley said.

The pet boutique is not tourist-dependent, said McCulley. “I’d say we’re probably 70 percent local and 30 percent tourist. That fluctuates with each season. We have a very strong local following.”

Hotel Parisi on Prospect indicated visitor volume was about the same this summer as last year. But there was one important difference, said the hotel’s general manager, Virginie Berron.

“Patrons were not spending as much money,” she said.

Berron said summer is the boutique hotel’s busiest time, with occupancy rates typically at 85 to 90 percent. That compares to occupancy rates between 65 and 70 percent during slower times of the year.

Summer business wasn’t as good as it was in 2005 at tourist-oriented Village business, La Jolla Cove Gifts on Girard.

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“We were down in June and July,” said Clair Thelin, who owns the souvenir shop that sells T-shirts, sweatshirts and other keepsakes. “August was better but still down just a little bit.”

Thelin believes high gas prices may have put a crimp in visitor turnout this summer. He said he’s been hearing from distributors that business is down in the retail trade.

“I have a distributor in San Diego that sells postcards at Seaport Village, and they’re down for the year,” Thelin said. “He just came back from a convention back east and they were down there, too.”

The gift shop owner, who’s been in business in La Jolla for 11 years, said this was the first summer business has been down, including the slump in consumer spending following Sept. 11, 2001.

News on summer business was mostly encouraging for Village restaurants. Dean Loring, owner of Cody’s contemporary American cuisine on Girard, said summer business was up handsomely this year over last.

“We were up about 20 percent,” he said.

Now in its ninth year of operation, Loring said Cody’s has a lot of repeat business. He gets a lot of guests in during summer from all over the country. He said July and August are his busiest months of the year.

“Those show a solid 20 to 30 percent increase,” he said.

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Summer business was good at another La Jolla eatery, The Cottage on Fay.

“We’re up for breakfast, lunch and dinner from last year,” said restaurant manager Cindy Forrey. “Our dinners were very successful this year.”

Forrey said the restaurant altered its menu and upgraded its wine selection this year. She said summertime business is good, but added the restaurant has a loyal clientele.

“Business is good in the summertime, of course,” she said, “but we have good business year-round on a regular basis. We are pretty much all locals, regulars.”