"They were successful in banning alcohol at the beach, and they are now going into the business district to come after the businesses,” says Eric Lingenfelder, part owner of the Tavern at the Beach sports bar on Garnet Avenue. “It’s no surprise. We’ve seen this coming for a while now.”
Lingenfelder’s suspicions come in response to recent complaints from Pacific Beach residents about the area’s retail businesses. Some people feel that the business district doesn’t provide for the entire community but instead caters to the 18-to-24 age group.
“I don’t think our area is a resident-friendly area,” says Jerry Hall, who’s lived in Pacific Beach for 18 years and is vice president of the Pacific Beach Town Council. Hall has spent years trying to diminish what he calls the “fraternity lifestyle” in Pacific Beach.
“It’s a real tough business environment for nonalcohol-related establishments,” he says. “Besides the 11 marijuana dispensaries, retail is getting killed right now.”
But residents are not the only ones complaining about the retail mix in Pacific Beach. Now, some business owners are concerned that retail shops along Garnet Avenue are being chased out by bars, gyms, marijuana dispensaries, and tattoo shops.
Jeff Kinney drives west on Garnet, pointing out businesses on either side of the street. “There’s a tattoo parlor, smoke shop, there’s another smoke shop, a bar, bar, another bar. There’s nothing to shop for on this block, absolutely no retail,” he says. In the short city block between Cass Street and Dawes, Kinney counts three smoke shops, four tattoo parlors, and five bars. Elsewhere along Garnet, he points to several vacant storefronts where retail businesses were forced to shut down.
Kinney has seen the Pacific Beach business district change since he opened his surf shop in 1980. Since 2007, he says, that change has been for the worse — less foot traffic, more trash and litter, and more untrimmed palm trees. But most of all, he sees more retail businesses struggling and more empty storefronts.
At first Kinney thought the decline in shoppers along Garnet could be attributed to the recession. But now he thinks it’s due to both the economy and the commercial direction in which Pacific Beach is headed.
“Why is it that we have seven tattoo parlors and a vacancy comes up and another tattoo parlor comes in?” Kinney asks. “It’s oversaturated. Landlords and businesses aren’t talking, and more and more retail is leaving the area. Foot traffic is down because people aren’t always in need of a tattoo, a cheap dress, or a water pipe.”
Among the neon-colored signs advertising bars and tattoo parlors along Garnet are 17 empty retail storefronts where clothing boutiques and furniture stores once operated. And many business owners are staying open only until their lease expires.
Mike Klonowski owns Crossroads Unique Boutique, a smoke shop near the corner of Garnet and Cass that sells posters, T-shirts, and water pipes. Klonowski has decided to close his business. He blames a decline in sales on the abundance of smoke shops and marijuana dispensaries.
“I’m ready to move on,” he says. “Sales are down. I’ve had to lay some people off. I work 10 to 12 hours every day. There are just not many people out shopping or walking down Garnet anymore.”
The poor retail mix is an old issue for Pacific Beach. Back in 1995, the updated community plan noted that new businesses were targeting visitors and not residents. “Since the late 1970s there has been a steady conversion of community-serving establishments to primarily visitor-serving novelty stores, a condom shop, nightclubs, fast-food restaurants and strip-commercial shopping centers,” reads the plan.
Although the situation has been ongoing for 30 years, recently residents and business owners have asked the Pacific Beach Business Improvement District to do a better job recruiting new retail businesses to the area.
Established in 1997, the district — called Discover Pacific Beach — is the second-largest business improvement district in San Diego. The district is responsible for promoting local businesses, recruiting new businesses, and managing improvement projects.
Every year each of the district’s 1300 business owners pays an assessment to Discover Pacific Beach. In 2010, the assessment totaled $147,000. In addition, the improvement district also received $178,000 from special events, grants, and membership fees. Of the $325,000 total, $183,300 was spent on operating costs such as rent, utilities, and salaries; $121,000 went to special events and promotions; and $7498 was spent on public improvement projects.
“The [business improvement district] is a total joke,” Klonowski, the smoke shop owner, says. “They don’t do anything. I pay all this money and I have to trim my own palm trees.”
“More focus should go to recruiting new businesses,” says Jerry Hall. “There’s none of that happening. We have a great demographic here, but we are not recruiting the businesses to fit the needs of the residents.”
Kinney says he has offered ideas to bring more foot traffic to Garnet, such as closing the street for “bike to the beach” events and asking the business district to work with hotels and business owners to bring people to the business district.
But Andy Hanshaw, executive director of Discover Pacific Beach, says no amount of recruiting is going to change the types of businesses looking to open in Pacific Beach. Hanshaw rejects the claim that businesses are geared solely toward the younger crowd and says that he meets with commercial brokers to look at the “business climate.” “Our retail mix is strong and has all types of businesses,” he says. “Look at the majority of residents. There is a younger demographic here, so of course more of those types of businesses are going to come here.”
Adds sports bar owner Eric Lingenfelder, who sits on the board of Discover Pacific Beach, “I don’t think the individuals on the planning group or the town council are a true representation of the community. Any smart business going into Pacific Beach is going to target the largest demographic in the neighborhood.”
According to 2000 census data, Hanshaw and Lingenfelder are correct that Pacific Beach’s 46,071 residents tend to be young. The median age is 31. Almost half — 48.3 percent — are between the ages of 20 and 34 years old, and more than half have never been married.
Like Lingenfelder, Hanshaw considers the complaints about the retail mix to be another strategy by some residents to restrict alcohol consumption in Pacific Beach. “The people on the town council have spent a long time on alcohol, and it is a large part of their agenda,” he says. “If they choose to do that, fine, but these are the businesses that are here. We work to attract as much as we can with very limited resources.”
Wayne Raffesberger, a land-use attorney and lecturer on urban land use at the University of California San Diego, points out, “Businesses should be dictated by the market. There’s no way legally to say to a property owner what type of commercial use the business has to be.”
Raffesberger compares the issues in Pacific Beach to issues in the Gaslamp Quarter during the late ’80s and early ’90s. He sat on the board of directors of downtown’s redevelopment corporation between 2003 and 2007. “[Centre City Development Corporation] always wanted to see a better mix of retail, but it turned into a more entertainment district,” he says. “It’s very difficult to make retail work in those areas. Residents are just not going to go to Pacific Beach or the Gaslamp to shop, unless it’s a boutique or a unique product. No matter what happens, natural selection by the marketplace will dictate what type of retail comes to Pacific Beach.”