Twin Inns building
In June, Sun Diego (a surf shop Carlsbad locals describe as being for inlanders and tourists) opened its doors on Coast Highway in the historic Twin Inns building. The one square block Village Faire shopping center, with the 127-year old Victorian building as its anchor, bills itself as locally owned franchises or mom-and-pop businesses.
The seven local surf and surf-style clothing shops found within a few blocks of the inn were infuriated that the owner of the center would allow a non-local, mall-type surf store — especially one that would look directly across Coast Highway at two longtime shops.
Even before the store opened, a sandal shop in the center closed its doors after Sun Diego’s lease was announced; the owners reputedly knew that they would not be able to compete with the nine-store chain.
Now that the summer tourist season is over, the remaining surf shops seemed to have weathered the arrival of Sun Diego. And perhaps done quite well in spite of it.
Cindy Depace, owner of Cindy’s Swimwear, directly across the street from Sun Diego, said her business thrives on locals. “Ninety percent of our business is locals,” she said. “Without a doubt, we provide better service to our customers. We work with them, work with their body types,” as in, not just an off-the-rack bikini purchase like at Sun Diego. Her shop has been on Coast Highway for 22 years.
Two blocks south, overlooking the ocean, is Scot Tamen’s Offshore surf shop. He’s been at that location for 36 years. He said the returning tourists come in year after year. The hotels also use his shop to arrange for board rentals and surf lessons for their guests. His business continues to grow because, he says, it’s a “real” surf shop.
Perhaps the most outspoken on the issue was Raw Skin Surf Shack’s owner Sandra Dee and her manager Amanda Soliemer. They’ve had their store for 11 years, one block north of Sun Diego. Sandra said, “We get more business because of Sun Diego. We are not that type of shop.”
She pointed out as an example that non-locals have walked into her store looking at their iPhones and tell their buddies, “It says its close by.” She knows they’re looking for Sun Diego. “Then they look up and see a real surf shop, and say, ‘Whoa’ knowing that they’ve walked into something completely different. “Then they support us,” Amanda said.
Walking in to Sun Diego, it’s easy to see why the uninitiated tourist or non-coastal resident would be drawn by their clean displays, slick lighting, posters of surf and action-sports celebrities, and the brands of mass-marketed surf and clothing-product lines.
Although Sun Diego has three coastal locations (one in Mission Beach and two in Del Mar/Solana Beach shopping centers), this is their first foray into the coastal North County surf culture.