Caltrans signs deter tourists

PCH — ONE LANE AT LAS FLORES — EXPECT DELAYS. That’s the traffic message that ran overhead along the 405 this weekend, but as far as some local merchants are concerned, it might just as well have read MALIBU’S A BUMMER — DON’T BOTHER.

In fact, drivers made their way past the Caltrans iron curtain with relative ease, but the fear of delays seemed to have kept some customers away. “It was really off,” said Sean Caples of Malibu Ocean Sports. “A lot of people weren’t going to Malibu because of the road problems. They didn’t know what to expect.” Caples had expanded his surf shop in January. In a few weeks, he’ll be having a clearance sale and moving back into the original location above Malibu Chicken. “We can’t afford the store,” he explained. “I can pay my employees. I can pay my bills, and that’s it.”

How well business people fared during the Fourth depends on whom you ask. Restaurants such as Taverna Tony and Marmalade Cafe, which draw lots of locals, did quite well. “It was busy,” says Marmalade’s Bobbie Levinson. “Things really picked up.”

Duke’s and Geoffrey’s also noticed an improvement, their ocean view patios and dining rooms were filled most of the time. “It was better,” said Jeff Peterson, the general manager at Geoffrey’s. “But, we’re still down 20 to 30 percent.”

Paul Spooner of Duke’s described the weekend business as good but not great. “Traditionally, the Fourth is quieter. It’s more of a barbecue and beach day than a restaurant day.”

Even so, specialty stores took a beating. If people came to the beach, they weren’t doing much buying. Cheryl Swade of Atlantis, for one, is furious and puts the blame on the men in orange. “They said to expect delays in Malibu every five minutes on the radio. It’s Caltrans. They’re glory seekers, they’re putting everyone else at financial risk and you can quote me on that.”

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