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Longtime owners adjust to keep residents local, fresh faces enter hometown business scene
By Andrea Papagianis
With three major revitalization projects in the works within the 7 square miles of Dana Point, city leaders are not the only ones investing in the community. From the local brick and mortar fixtures that have drawn patrons in for decades, to the moveable services launching innovative solutions for customers, Dana Point’s business community is changing with the times.
“Over the last few years, we had businesses going out of business, and now having these new businesses coming in shows that people have more faith in the economy and also a lot of faith in the future of Dana Point,” said Heather Johnston, executive director of the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce, who has seen membership nearly double since she came on board last year.
From April 2012—when Johnston took over—to the chamber’s latest tally at the end of May, participation grew from 275 to 410 members. But more important than the numbers, Johnston said more business owners, managers and employees are active in the community.
“When businesses are just trying to keep their doors open we don’t see people with the ability to network and market their businesses,” Johnston said. “But now that people are finally starting to catch their breath, they are starting to attend more events and have time to enjoy Dana Point.”
We caught up with eight local business owners—from the OC Dana Point Harbor, Doheny Village, Town Center, Monarch Beach and Ocean Ranch—to check in with entrepreneurs both old a new on developments and hometown essentials that remain unchanged.
Setting the Harbor’s new course
Harbor Boat Rentals—www.harborboatrentals.com
After seven years of planning, business partners Dan Pitkin and Marc Levine launched their mobile boat rental company at the Dana Point Harbor Boat Show last week. With more than 55 years of experience on the water, the longtime locals wanted to share their passion with others.
“The timing just seemed right,” said Pitkin, a Capistrano Beach resident. “The economy seemed to come back a little and we’ve been saving our money and it’s just go time now.”
Pitkin, who owned a construction company, and Levine, the general manager of a nearby resort, are no strangers to the business world. Now through their boat service, serving Dana Point, Newport and Oceanside harbors, the two offer customers the boating experience without the hassles—tell them when and where, and their boats will be cleaned, fueled and ready to go.
“It was actually just a choice to change my lifestyle and do what I want to do, rather than what I need to do or have to do,” Pitkin said. “I wanted my dream job doing what I enjoy, being on the water and sharing my love for the ocean with other people.”
DaVine Food & Wine—www.davine-wine.com
But now the two have a winning hand. With three Harbor stores—including DaVine Food & Wine, Golden Galleon and Upstairs Store—the Balmuth’s have streamlined their businesses and learned from their mistakes. Just two weeks ago, DaVine’s wine-tasting space expanded, and with nearly double the space, Marla Balmuth hopes to keep locals eating and drinking their unique offerings.
“You have to change and evolve, that is what business is all about if you want to grow, succeed and survive,” she said. “We have to adapt, continue to more forward and not look back.
Where beach meets ranch
Throughout the course of an eight-month remodel, Bob and Stephanie Lintz were able to hang on to more than their customers, they also maintained half their staff. Officially reopening two weeks ago, with more square footage, an expanded deli, juice and coffee bar, Bob Lintz said business is better now than it was before.
“Today you must be more competitive in price, have good quality items and staff,” said Bob Lintz. “Because of this economy, people want more on their return.”
To keep customers satisfied and coming back for more, Lintz added items to the market’s shelves that patrons wanted and hopes the remodel and new features will bring more sales and more happiness.
For 18 years, Cathy McCool has built a lasting reputation in Dana Point, and with the development of new technologies and the social media boom, she works hard to keep her flower shop’s online standing just as strong.
In adapting over the last two decades, and weathering the 2008 recession, McCool has refocused her business model, gotten back to the basics of creating long-lasting bouquets for weddings and special events and has started wearing multiple hats in her business.
“We are still here, but it has been hard,” McCool said. “I cannot tell you it was easy, this was the hardest five years ever. But I think if we are still here today that we are going to carry on.”
Keeping Doheny rooted in history
Dating back to 1937, El Patio has stayed true to its Doheny roots.
“We are a little guy,” said owner Jack Saunderson. “I never franchised out. I have just been happy surfing and running the business.”
Saunderson, who took over his mother Lucy’s restaurant in 1989, said there is no smoke and mirrors, just his mother’s original recipes and loyal customers who love the little pink place in Capistrano Beach.
“When every customer walks through the door I am so humbled and thankful,” he said.
Mother-daughter team Pamela Vandergrift and Caia Curiale have been cultivating a style of their own for years, and for the last three, they’ve shared their flair with Dana Point.
With an established clientele of locals and out-of-town regulars, the fashion-forward duo has seen an uptick in shoppers and the caliber of clothing exchanges. Curiale followed her mother to Dana Point nearly 10 years ago and has spent the last decade studying the area’s culture and familiarizing herself with her customer’s needs. And with positive changes taking place in her store’s numbers, Curiale hopes the trend continues in Doheny.
“Just in general I think the town has picked up a little bit and more businesses are getting the idea to open up,” she said. “We started the path down here, and I’ve noticed more businesses trying to open up.”
Center keeps hometown feel
Since 1976, Sue Basanda has worked side-by-side with her father, Bill Sandberg, and for the last 15 years her son Billy Barker has been a full-time employee or a daily fixture in the hardware store. When Sandberg started the company with his wife Carolyn and brother, both deceased, there were no houses behind Dana Hills High School, just empty fields. It’s those developments that Sandberg said pushed them along.
“We were in the right place at the right time,” he said.
Now with major corporations dominating the hardware world, the Sandberg family believes their sticking true to that hometown feel has kept them around for 37 years.
“We are the last one standing,” Basanda said. “We still try to cater to the community and what they want rather than be a big box store and carry what’s required.”
Sue Osborn took over the site of the Coastal Arcadian last year and has spent the past 18 months building the property into a trifecta of art and retail spaces. From the fine art gallery, The Shed, to a high-end bead shop, OC Beads, and an American-mercantile store, The Coop, Osborn hopes to establish the Arcadian as a living, breathing cultural destination.
“I’ve always been an adventurer,” said the 20-year veteran of the bead business. “I want it to be a site that you walk into and just step back in time a bit, to the pre-computer era, where people can take a little sigh.”
The Shed opened its doors in November and The Coop is still establishing an identity, something Osborn said will be continually evolving as long as the Arcadian is around.