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The City Council has put together a committee to determine what policies the City of Del Mar can institute to assist businesses in Del Mar to become more effective. The council cites the stagnation of the sales tax and low occupancy at the Plaza. The focus appears to be on city government--what can City Hall do to help businesses be more successful.

We commend Council’s willingness to focus on City Hall improvements but suggest more attention to the many businesses which have survived for 15 years or more during ups and downs of the economy. City Hall policies do not seem to be a crucial variable for these surviving businesses. They must be doing something right. What can other less successful businesses learn from them? What differentiates businesses such as Dexter’s Deli, Jake’s, or Rusty’s from businesses that are struggling?

A case in point is Sbicca’s restaurant, occupying a space where a previous operator complained vociferously that City Hall inadequacies and parking were responsible for the failure of his restaurant. It was a new owner, not City Hall changes that made this restaurant successful.

Many of the answers for shaping up Del Mar businesses can be found in the 2007 Community Land Use and Economics (CLUE) study commissioned by the Del Mar Village Association (DMVA). The study concludes very convincingly that the business district “must actively support the retail needs of both community residents and visitors...there has been, some discomfort with the concept of actively catering to both customer segments simultaneously...Almost all older and historic commercial districts that achieve sustained economic growth do so, in part, by focusing on two or three distinct customer segments, rather than focusing on just one. Doing so provides market diversity and synergy, both of which are necessary for economic vibrancy. Del Mar Village is fortunate to have two relatively strong customer segments whose retail interests at least partially overlap.”

The CLUE report is quite specific in its many prescriptions for business success in Del Mar. An example, “Del Mar Village’s businesses have a superb opportunity to develop long-term, ongoing business relationships with one-time or occasional visitors. We strongly encourage the district’s retail businesses to develope mail and snail-mail address lists, noting what items or services customers buy, and to set a modest goal of maintaining contact with just one or two new customers each week, perhaps sending a periodic postcard or handwritten note announcing a new product or sending an email to offer to assist with holiday or special occasion shopping.”

Another example of specifics “Delivery services: Del Mar has a high percentage of two-income households and commuters, and weekday shopping time is therefore likely to be somewhat constrained. A group of businesses might consider offering a daily or twice-a-day delivery service for local residents, making it easier for them to patronize district businesses.”

Advocating an increase in Del Mar’s internet presence, CLUE suggests “Research we have conducted in 30 historic commercial districts throughout the US this past year suggests that internet-based sales now represent approximately 18 percent of the overall sales generated by these districts’ independently-owned businesses. The more specialized a business’s products and services, the more important internet-based sales are to its overall earnings. While the chances are remote that any one Del Mar Village retailer will become an Amazon.com-like destination, Del Mar Village’s merchants can use online retailing to great benefit by extending what they already do best: selling unique items with personalized service.”

We urge this committee and the DMVA to dig into the specifics of this authoritative CLUE report, see which businesses are already benefiting from these best practices, and help new and struggling businesses tune into this excellent resource. The answers are not in City Hall.

(The full CLUE report is on the City of Del Mar website under revitalization: delmar.ca.us)



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