We all know that the best protection against contracting Covid-19 is vaccination, but is it possible that the best protection against the pandemic’s economic headwinds is to locate your business in Del Mar? That could be the case according to long-time Rusty Surf Shop owner Zach Groban. “The past two years have been among the best in our history. Tourists who ordinarily would be flying to exotic locales have switched to road trips, and where better to drive and spend the week than on the beach at 15th Street?” Mr. Groban has also noticed an uptick in business from local residents with more free time working from home rather than commuting.
While the Del Mar Plaza has not escaped the pandemic as unscathed as Rusty’s, co-owner and operator Patty Brutten (with husband Marc) is similarly upbeat about the current state of business: “The initial impact of Covid was devastating. Had it not been for federal relief funds, we would not have had the resources to work with our tenants as they struggled through the lockdown. But we have come out the other side, with retail approaching pre-Covid levels, and restaurants exceeding those levels.” Like Mr. Groban, Ms. Brutten attributes much of the Plaza’s recovery to recent improvements designed to maximize its idyllic setting. “Our space is outdoors near the beach, and people love congregating on our terrace throughout the day and night.” She also emphasized the success of two of the Plaza’s most recent entrants – Monarch Pub and Tamarindo – which have drawn consistently large crowds despite opening in the midst of a pandemic. “These restaurants have embraced the casual beach vibe that blends in perfectly with the Plaza setting, and with Del Mar overall.”
Optimism amongst local merchants is a common theme. “If there’s a silver lining in Covid, it’s that it provided an opportunity for our community to support our businesses, and the results have been phenomenal,” says K.C. Vafiadis, a local commercial landlord and Chair of the Del Mar Village Association. “Ten new businesses opened in Del Mar during the pandemic representing a good mix of restaurant and retail, and two more are opening in the next several weeks.” She agrees that much of Del Mar’s success is due to its seaside location and small town charm, which has attracted tourists looking to stay closer to home. “Add the Breeder’s Cup to the mix this fall and, by the end of the year, we think the City’s coffers are going to be full.”
Bob Gregson, General Manager of L’Auberge Del Mar, largely concurs with Ms. Vafiadis, though he is concerned about the possible impact of the Delta variant. “We’ve had a terrific summer, with our occupancy levels limited only by our ability to hire staff. Now, however, we’re beginning to see cancellations based on fears of a resurgence in the virus. Hopefully, those concerns will die down so we can look forward to a strong Breeder’s Cup and a continued recovery.” Greg Glassman, co-owner (with wife, Jen) of Zel’s Del Mar echoed worries about variants, and expressed hope that the City would plan accordingly: “One thing that many of the restaurant owners here and elsewhere have discovered is that people love eating outside. We’re currently able to provide that opportunity through temporary use permits that are scheduled to expire in March. I hope Del Mar follows the example of other cities in making those changes permanent, which would be a huge help in the event of a resurgence.”
According to DMVA Chair Vafiadis, there the current City Council may be interested in supporting that change and more, including measures such as adaptive use zoning and liberalized parking regulations, which she believes will help Del Mar achieve the vital downtown district envisioned by the Community Plan. “It’s on the City’s work plan for this year, and we believe that these proposals finally have a good chance of coming to fruition. After a lifetime in Del Mar, I’m as optimistic as I’ve ever been about the future.”