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Summer Heats Up Sales

By Ed Moosbrugger

August 11 -- A stretch of warm weather has helped get business off to a solid start for the summer in Downtown Santa Monica.

Both stores and restaurants generally report increased business, although some retailers are disappointed.

At the Quiksilver store on the Third Street Promenade, July business was trending well over 10 percent higher than last year at mid month, reported General Manager Jim Gill.

“It’s pretty steady, especially with this heat,” Gill said. “Our business is a lot of surf apparel, board shorts and summer apparel.”

At the Guess apparel store on the Promenade, business was strong in June and the store was posting double digit sales gains in July, said General Manager Anne Nanej in mid July.

“We’re doing really well,” Nanej said. “The traffic seems to be higher than normal.”

Downtown Santa Monica seems to be doing well despite disappointing sales growth on the national retail scene in June. Increased tourism is one reason for the local strength.

Not all downtown retailers, however, are happy with sales results.

At the Wild About Music store at 1450 Second Street, “it’s been slower than we’d like it to be,” said Ilse Jouette, artist in residence and assistant to the store’s owner.

One reason, she said, is that the store is off the beaten path. She would like to see some signs at Second Street and Broadway that alert people to the fact that there are more stores and restaurants on the street.

“We are unique,’” Jouette said. “Once somebody finds it, they are thrilled.”

Despite the problems, however, “this time of year we are getting a lot of tourists,” Jouette reported.

Generally, business is strong in Downtown Santa Monica.

“It’s picked up quite a bit,” said Naren Patel, owner of Shiva Imports on the Promenade. Business seems to pick up after July 4, and Shiva’s sales were running ahead of last July after the store suffered lower sales through June.

“Tourists are here from different states and countries,” Patel noted. Still, Patel thinks more could be done to boost business in the Downtown area. He favors more events to bring people in.

Business is running about the same as last year at the Hennessey & Ingalls art and architecture bookstore on Wilshire Boulevard. Owner Mark Hennessey is pleased because last year was the best ever for the store.

Restaurants also report strong summer business.

“We’ve done very well so far,” said Lynne Kerr, manager of Ye Olde King’s Head Pub & Restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard. World Cup soccer contributed to business, but the King’s Head has been busier than usual without the World Cup, she said. A new patio, which seats 36 people, is doing very well.

“Everybody wants to sit outside,” Kerr said. She noted that the King’s Head seems to be getting a younger crowd.

At Barney’s Beanery on the Promenade, “things are going very well right now,” said co-founder and co-owner David Houston. “World Cup was a happy surprise. It was really substantial.” Barney’s does a lot of sports business, he said.

Sales are up 20 to 25 percent this year, about where the restaurant expected them to to be in its second year, Houston said. Strong sales are vital because of the high rents on the Promenade, he noted.

Business at Ocean Avenue Seafood is up about 8 percent in the first half, and volume has risen about 5 percent at i. Cugini, said Jeff King, co-founder and chair of King Seafood Co., which owns the two restaurants.

King, who is incoming chair of the California Restaurant Association, said business was probably getting even stronger in July.

Increased tourism seems to be one of the reasons for strong business Downtown this year.

Santa Monica hotels entered the summer on a very strong note. In May, the hotel occupancy rate jumped 11.4 percent from a year earlier to 83 percent, while the average daily room rate rose 12.6 percent to $258.33, according to a report by PKF Consulting.

For the first five months of 2006, the occupancy rate increased 5.3 percent to 82.4 percent and the average room rate rose 9 percent to $250.12.

The figures are good news for Santa Monica stores and restaurants.
“Santa Monica is very much dependent on foreign tourists,” noted King, whose company has 15 restaurants.

Downtown stores are prospering from a mix of locals and tourists.

“We’re getting a lot more locals than we did last year,” said Quiksilver’s Gill. But the store also is getting a lot of tourists.

The Guess store was also seeing many tourists in the first two weeks of July, Nanej said.

King seemed to sum up the general situation.

“We’re very happy,” he said.

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