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Mixed Signals

By Ed Moosbrugger

September 13 -- The decidedly unclear picture of retailing in Downtown Santa Monica continued into the summer, with a mix of sales gains and declines being shown.

Downtown isn’t alone in the search for a clear pattern of business.

Take two recent national reports on retail sales. First, the International Council of Shopping Centers reported that July sales at major chains it tracks fell short of expectations. A few days later, the federal government reported that retail sales for July exceeded expectations.

Results for the major chains probably give a better picture of the types of retailers found in Downtown Santa Monica.

At the Quicksilver store on the Third Street Promenade, which sells surfing and boarding apparel, accessories and equipment, business has been a bit disappointing this summer.

“It’s kind of slow this year,” said manager Jim Gill in mid August. “It just seems that traffic is down.” He’s not sure why, because the weather has been good. Perhaps, he said, people are just going to the beach instead of shopping.

Mark Hennessey, owner of Hennessey + Ingalls bookstore on Wilshire Boulevard, reported that “it’s been a little slow. There is a trend, it seems.” One problem, he said, may be the difficulties international visitors face.

“They’ve made it so difficult to come into this country,” he said, recalling a long delay he had going through customs.

Hennessey had felt that the weak dollar would help increase tourism, which is very important to Downtown businesses, but now he’s not sure.

The occupancy rate at Santa Monica hotels jumped 3.2 percent in June from a year earlier to 85.8 percent following a 3.2 percent drop in May, according to PKF Consulting. For the first half of 2007 the occupancy rate edged up 0.2 percent.

At Taos Indian Trading Co. on Santa Monica Boulevard, co-owner Todd Swift is “happy with the summer.” He noted in early August that tourism from Europe was starting to kick in, with visitors from Germany, Italy and France, among others.

Business at the store is about evenly divided between local patrons and tourists. Swift said his store appeals to international visitors because he sells Native American-made products. Items that are handmade in the United States and have some cultural history are popular.

“The only thing I hear complaints about is parking,” Swift said.

The Wild About Music store on Second Street didn’t make it through the summer after only a few years in business.

The store on the 1400 block of Second planned to close in late August after a disappointing run that was affected by store closures nearby and difficulty in getting people to come to Second Street to shop. Sales got worse instead of better.

“Part of the problem is the synergy on this block,” said co-owner Shelley Meyer, who has a successful store in Austin, Texas.

Wild About Music had a following before it opened in Santa Monica and has benefited from patrons of the neighboring Buca di Beppo restaurant. That wasn’t enough, however, to overcome a virtual retail dead zone that developed since the store opened, with extensive store vacancies on the north side of Broadway from Second Street toward Ocean Avenue.
On top of that, the store faced a huge rent increase.

Meyer believes the City needs to do more to improve the ambiance on Second Street.
Even with all the problems Wild About Music encountered, it hopes to reopen a store in the Los Angeles area and will take another look at Santa Monica, Meyer said.

On the restaurant scene, the picture is also a bit mixed, with some special factors affecting some eateries.

“We’re a little down from last year” in Santa Monica, said Jeff King of King Seafood Co., which owns i.Cugini and Ocean Avenue Seafood on Ocean Avenue. Several power outages, which have plagued parts of Downtown, are at least partly to blame, King said. There’s also more competition.

Not only do the power outages affect business at the time, they leave a bad taste in the mouths of diners, who may not return. Some potential customers don’t feel comfortable booking because of possible outages, King said.

King Seafood owns 16 restaurants, but its two in Santa Monica are the only ones where business is down this year, King said. It isn’t all bad, however, because the Santa Monica restaurants are coming off a very strong year in 2006.

“I’m not complaining,” King said.

At Ye Olde King’s Head Pub & Restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard business was brisk, manager Lynne Kerr said in early August.

“We’re busy,” she said. “We’ve put extra girls on all the shifts.”

Several factors have boosted business, including good weather, the popular sidewalk patio, many visitors from Great Britain and the band concerts on the Santa Monica Pier, Kerr said.

Business is down a little bit at Broadway Deli, said co-owner Marvin Zeidler. Although business from tourists is doing well, declining activity at Santa Monica Place across the street has hurt the local market, he said.

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“It’s kind of slow this year. It just seems that traffic is down.” Jim Gill


“The only thing I hear complaints about is parking.” Todd Swift


“We’re busy. We’ve put extra girls on all the shifts.” Lynne Kerr


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