As big-box chains and e-commerce continue on an upward trajectory, it’s more important than ever to Think Laguna First.
By Tanya A. Yacina
The modern shopping experience is not what it once was. In many cities, family-owned businesses have been replaced by large retail chains, stripping the stores of their uniqueness. But Laguna Beach has long held onto that small-town charm and, to preserve this community character and its economy, nonprofit Think Laguna First is helping to promote the importance of shopping locally.
Managed by the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, Think Laguna First encourages residents to keep this special town at the forefront of their thoughts, turning to nearby retailers for gifts and personal items, local restaurants for dining and even in-town beaches or hiking trails for recreation.
The program was established around 2015, the brainchild of Kavita Reddy, a former Chamber board member who co-owned Buy Hand in town before she and her sister closed the gift shop to open Tea & Turmeric. “As a small business owner herself, she noticed that many of her neighbors left town to get their retail needs met,” says Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, chairman of the Chamber’s board of directors. “She formulated this campaign along with a few other small business owners and, thus, Think Laguna First was born.”
Hornbuckle-Arnold explains that the genesis for the program came about because the board of directors, comprising many retail shop owners at the time, agreed that educating the Laguna Beach community on the availability of products in town was paramount in asking locals to support our small businesses.
Utilizing programs like Think Laguna First ensures that more money is invested back into the town. It’s estimated that 68% of the funds spent at local shops and restaurants remains in Laguna Beach while 65% of new jobs are created by these same small businesses. As such, more money is contributed to support nonprofits in town while taxes from the sales are used to benefit schools, police and fire departments, and city roads.
Think Laguna First uses its core initiatives to support the town’s businesses and connect the community.
Supporting Small Businesses
Founded by American Express, Small Business Saturday began nationwide in 2010, giving every Chamber of Commerce the chance to help its town’s small businesses gain exposure and inspire customers to shop locally. Held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it’s the perfect way to shop for gifts for the holiday season. “It’s important that businesses offer shopping incentives, [which] could be anything from a percentage off, a two-for-one offer, a ‘have lunch and get free dessert’ or even 10% off an eye exam, if you are a service provider,” says Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, chairman of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors. “It really helps draw people in.” Consumers can procure a Passport for Shopping, then visit participating businesses to get it stamped for a chance to win prizes such as overnight stays at The Ranch at Laguna Beach or Montage Laguna Beach, among others.
The city’s Hospitality Night falls on the first Friday of December and, according to Hornbuckle-Arnold, it was created to get locals downtown for one big party, but also to increase revenue for downtown merchants. The event started 67 years ago, and all can agree its popularity has skyrocketed over the years. “The initial goal in creating the event was to get people exposed to their local shops,” Hornbuckle-Arnold says. “It has since turned into one of the biggest family celebrations of the year. What I personally love about it is that it’s a night where everyone is in a good mood. … Peppertree Lane is filled with projects for the younger kids, along with music. Santa moves to Forest Avenue to visit with the little ones. There is always a band on the Coast Highway end of Forest Avenue for dancing.”
Think Laguna First partners with both nonprofit and for-profit organizations, as well as magazines and individuals like Instagram influencer Kristin by the Ocean, who promotes local businesses and happenings. Another partnership is with SchoolPower, whose year-round Laguna Locals program provides deals to residents who purchase a discount card to use at restaurants and retail shops in town. “The great thing about this program is [that] it’s a perfect example of the synergy of two local nonprofits working together to provide something … [for residents],” Hornbuckle-Arnold says. “For SchoolPower, it’s a fundraiser. For the Chamber, it’s another opportunity to Think Laguna First.”