The idiom expressing how important location is to a business’ success is well-known, and local entrepreneur Azar Salehi is one person crucially aware of its impact.
Salehi, who has owned Bella Bazaar since 2006 through four locations, knows that her business’ current spot right in the heart of the Dana Point Harbor has significantly contributed to Bazaar’s longevity.
The storefront mere feet away from El Torito opened during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Salehi took advantage and surprised herself upon finding she was able to fit 60% of the inventory from her previous location in the harbor.
A downside from the move was that she now had no room to place larger furniture pieces, but Salehi’s long-standing run in town nevertheless has allowed her to garner a positive reputation. Those in search of furniture know where to find her, whether online or at her warehouse facility in San Juan Capistrano.
It’s that connection with the area and her prioritization of carrying local artisans’ pieces that have led Dana Point Times readers to vote Bella Bazaar as the store for the Best Home Decor in the city, earning it the People’s Choice Golden Lantern.
Salehi, who previously worked in retail before setting out on her own, says she felt privileged to be nominated among the best. She added that it showed her she was correct in spurning opportunities to move inland in favor of serving her hometown.
“The fact that—it’s not a multiple choice; it’s a write-in—they have to remember Bella Bazaar in order to nominate us during the voting process,” says Salehi. “I’m very blessed and privileged that we’ve made a good enough impact for people just to remember us, period.”
2nd Hand Treasures and Timeless Teak tied for the Silver Lantern this year.
Helen Mahshi, co-owner of 2nd Hand Treasures with her husband, Ziad, says it was gratifying and that they were honored to be nominated. They strive to pick furniture and decor pieces for which customers have indicated their preference as time has passed.
“We just strive to give good personal service,” Mahshi says. “A lot of clients have become good friends. Mostly, it’s really just about listening to what they want and trying to deliver it.”
Mike Riley, who has operated Timeless Teak with his wife, Debbi, for 24 years, says that they appreciated serving the local clientele and providing teak furniture that “embellishes” their customers’ fine homes. He notes that they are one of the only home decor stores nearby that still specializes in teak materials.
From the beginning, when Bella Bazaar carried more than 100 artisans’ works, Salehi has had people come to her over time, which has helped continue her goal of offering locally made products. The other parts of her business come from selling items that tourists might like and fulfilling custom orders for cushions, pillows, and other decor.
She says she loves working with people and helping their design vision come to life.
The business has evolved considerably over the years, especially including her decision to downsize when she moved into her current space. Salehi initially resisted the move but now says it “would have been stupid not to” go forward.
“It’s just easier to manage, and we’re in such a prime location that everybody sees us,” she says. “Obviously, I don’t have to do nearly as much advertising and things like that, because we do have a captive audience down here.”
She did forego having furniture on hand to display to customers, but her ever-revolving collection of clothing, jewelry and other items has helped to fill the space. Salehi has also learned to better utilize space, she says.
Being among the business owners in the harbor has been special to her because each entity has their own draw, but at the same time, they can pull together to represent the harbor as a good place to visit.
Regarding the area’s future in terms of the upcoming revitalization, Salehi says those prospects have been scary. However, she feels that major changes are not imminent.
“The natural transition, obviously, is online,” she says. “I think most likely everybody will go online while they are renovating and then perhaps come back when the renovations are finished.”
The existence of her warehouse is also a comfort moving forward.
Contributing to Bella Bazaar’s online presence is its activity on social media, as Salehi acknowledges she enjoys working with people in person but likes to post transformations of certain pieces.
“For example, somebody brings in a really old chair that’s really ugly, and then we revitalize it to make it fresh and new,” she says.
Salehi looks forward to continuing to have the exposure her location brings in anticipation of the changes to come.