Retail goes and comes in Malibu

Hanna’s Mexican Cantina is adios, Vickie’s Legs have taken flight and Fin’s has gone fishing for good. There are sweeping changes taking place in Malibu’s small business community. Many old favorites have faded away with new shops and restaurants taking their places. One of the most anticipated arrivals is Banana Republic. Work crews are putting the finishing touches on the store, and soon its shelves will be stocked with high-fashion, moderately-priced khakis, cotton sweaters and bomber jackets. The national chain moves into the old space once occupied by Crown Books.

A new Gap store will be moving into the longtime location of SuperCare Drugs. A smaller SuperCare pharmacy has re-opened around the corner in the space last used by the Los Angeles Times. “I think these stores will enhance each other,” says Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary Lou Blackwood. “With more choices, Malibu residents will have the opportunity to stay in town more.”

Across the street at the Malibu Country Mart, big changes are also underway. An upscale Japanese eatery called Nobu will be moving into the former Fin’s fish restaurant, Leatherwaves has moved atop Topp’s art gallery and a new lingerie store called Under G’s has opened across from Taverna Tony.

In Malibu Colony Plaza, Faces and Legs by Vickie has closed after its owner decided to scale back. Several former employees have moved over to Bernie Safire’s Salon in the Country Mart.

After a very short stay, Psycho Chicken has fled the coop. But the corner restaurant near P.C. Greens didn’t stay empty for long. Malibu food impresario Richard Chesterfield re-opened it as Sir Richard’s House of Curry. Up at Topanga, it’s satay instead of tortillas, Hanna’s Mexican Cantina is now Cholada Thai Beach Cuisine. Georgio’s Italian trattoria, favored by President Clinton on his visits to Malibu, has shut its doors after five years and the one-time Windsail with its breathtaking ocean views also remains an empty shell, on its way to becoming a condominium complex.

Although there are changes a plenty, Blackwood does not feel it is anything to worry about. “Some people are getting a little excited and putting out negative vibes that businesses aren’t making it, but that’s not true,” she says. “We’re just filling up spaces which have been there for quite some time.” She points to the many local businesses that have enjoyed a successful relationship with Malibu for years. “Look at the staying power of Malibu Lifestyles, Room at the Beach and the Malibu Colony Company. There really is a healthy market out there right now.”

To be sure, many Malibu locals will welcome the opportunity to do their Gap and Banana Republic shopping at home and forsake the long drive into town, but according to Blackwood, big retail chain stores present another set of challenges to the community. Chains like Blockbuster, Starbucks and Radio Shack are less likely to join the Chamber of Commerce and less likely to become involved in the community. “When they’re that big, they don’t really feel like they need us.” Still, Blackwood and other chamber members say they’ll do their best to welcome the new establishments and encourage them to think local. In the meantime, don’t be surprised if the center of town starts taking on a whole new look.

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