MANHATTAN BEACH MAY NOT BE AS GLITZY AND GLAM AS LOS ANGELES, BUT THE BEDROOM COMMUNITY MAKES UP FOR IT WITH A FASHION-FORWARD RETAIL SCENE.
Byline: Deirdre Mendoza
Located less than 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles and three miles from the Los Angeles International Airport at the southerly end of the Santa Monica Bay, the city of Manhattan Beach benefits from being both a bedroom community for L.A.’s entertainment industry executives and a summer home for the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Tiger Woods, and Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn.
Manhattan Beach native Quentin Tarantino penned his first screenplay, “True Romance,” in the city while employed at a video store. Producer David E. Kelley has set up shop here with production offices for “The Practice” and Ally McBeal.” Walt Disney and Raleigh Studios also have facilities in the city.
But beyond the Hollywood connection, this city’s 33,852 residents are hooked on its white sandy beaches and the benefits of SoCal living. Consequently, single-family homes average $400 per square foot, and beachfront properties along the area known as The Strand go for upward of $7 million.
Typical in some ways of other California coastal getaways, the city, which defines “downtown” by a three-block district centered on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, has a palpable get-to-know-your neighbor vibe. Families frequent the mom-and-pop restaurants such as Mama D.’s and Fonz’s on Friday nights, while the younger crowd livens the martini bar at the French-Japanese eatery, Michi.
For the retailers that line Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Highland Avenue, the challenge is to keep up with the hip retail alternatives that abound in Los Angeles.
“People are commuting into L.A. on a regular basis, so they’re looking to us for very stylish, hip, functional and wearable clothing,” said Alicia Gentz, store manager for Wright’s, a Manhattan Beach shop that carries women’s and men’s contemporary lines. Gentz said some of the key resources at Wright’s include L.A. designer Rozae Nichols, European designer Kristensen Du Nord, as well as leathers and casual bottoms by Burning Torch, leathers, wools and fitted tops by Barbara Bui and tops and bottoms from the French line Paul and Joe. Replay, Earl Jean and Diesel are the store’s strongest denim resources.
Wright’s, which opened in 1988, is owned by Dana McFarland and Nancy McFarland, major players in the town’s insular retail community. The couple also own Baby Wright’s, which stocks infants’ and children’s clothing. With partners Cindy Levin and David Levin, the McFarlands co-own The Bee Hive, a youth-oriented clothing and giftware store, and Lu Lu’s, an upscale lingerie and giftware store. The Levins also own 15-year-old Manhattan Beach Sports, a beach lifestyle store that carries activewear and beach accessories.
Lu Lu’s stocks shoes by Robert Clergerie, Geoffredo Santini and Stephane Kelian, as well as lingerie by La Perla, Only Hearts and Hanro. Lingerie lines retail from about $30 to $275.
The McFarlands brought high-end retailing to Manhattan Beach after being frustrated by having to shop in Los Angeles for contemporary and designer labels.
An intensely private couple, the McFarlands declined to give any figures regarding overall sales or marketing plans, but they did say they have grown their business through direct marketing and word of mouth.
The Wright’s stores service a wide customer base. “We’ve got the older sophisticated residents, but we’re also covering the moms and screenplay writers who want that flair,” said Gentz.
At the Bee Hive on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, teens have a slew of trendy resources to choose from, including Fornarina, Fever, BBC Rags, Mooks and Rock Star.
“We stock a ton of original gifts, as well as very hip, trendy items and lots of denim for younger kids, teens and their moms,” said Analisa Talamayan, Bee Hive’s store manager. “This is definitely the place the girls stop on a Friday night to pick up something cool for the weekend.”
Flip Flop, also on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, carries an assortment of hip lines, geared to a slightly more mature customer. Some of Flip Flop’s bestsellers include Anna Huling tops, skirts from Beautiful People, Lily Pulitzer dresses, as well as pieces from Ya-Ya and silkscreened T-shirts from Ash Francomb.
“These are educated people who shop for quality, so I had to come up with my quality,” said owner Pam Cohen. “Originally, I had a lower price point, but I’ve seen that this customer would rather spend $200 on a pair of pants than buy something that just wasn’t the right caliber.”
Cohen, a former dot-com publicist, researched the area’s demographics before opening her store in 1999. She commutes 20 minutes each morning from Culver City, Calif., arriving in time to meditate and run on the beach.
She said she was surprised to see how much her sizing has shrunk since she opened. She barely carries above an 8, noting that 10s and 12s simply don’t sell.
“I wish I could say that I have those sizes,” she said. “I don’t even want to say ‘larger’ — let’s say ‘normal’ sizes — but I don’t stock them anymore. I’ve never seen such a body-conscious town in my life.”
Cohen said she has been pleased to see a steady, 25 percent increase in sales over the past year.
“I’d like to think the rise is because I’ve focused my buying better and have started listening to my customer,” she said. “For example, they asked several times for Susana Monaco. Finally, I’m carrying the line, and it’s doing so well I’m about to reorder.”
Less than two blocks away on Highland Avenue, Beau & Eros is the place for tight, printed and sparkly T-shirts, denim pieces by Blue Cult, Frankie B., Mavi and Fever, and jewelry by L.A.-based designer Lily Rachel. With its nostalgic decor — vintage life preservers and tennis rackets hang from the ceiling — contrasted with plush velvet curtains and an aged chandelier, the store could pass for an eclectic L.A. haunt. But, said owner Carole Taicher, it is very much a Manhattan Beach locale.
“Because Manhattan Beach is a casual, comfortable environment, but also stylish, I felt there was a niche for a young contemporary store with cute T-shirts and low-rider jeans,” she said.
Opened in 1995, the shop stocks casual looks by Betsey Johnson, BCBG Max Azria, BBC Rags, Sharagano and piles of printed novelty and athletic-themed T-shirts under the Beau & Eros label.
Sales for the store are about even with yearend 2000 figures, according to Taicher, a Manhattan Beach resident for the past 12 years. Taicher believes business is steady because of her loyal customer base .
“We have everyone from Los Angeles celebrities to young teens in the area shopping in our store,” she said. “It’s a diverse and fun-loving clientele because of the Manhattan Beach lifestyle.”