Claremont Insider: Village Expansion Talk

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Village Expansion Talk

The issue of the branding of Claremont has been much in the local news lately.

In the last week or so, there's been a spate of letters and an opinion piece in the Claremont Courier commenting on the City's possible branding initiative. On November 12th, the Courier had a letter from former Claremont resident and frequent visitor Carrie Young. Young argued that the City needs to look outside Claremont to find advertising talent with "major branding experience." Young also suggested the City not try to do their branding initiative on the cheap.

In the same issue of the Courier, reader Laura Jaoui indicated that the people responsible for leasing in Village West leave much to be desired. (Hey, Nick Quackenbos! Aren't those your signs we see in all those empty shop spaces in the Village Expansion?) Jaoui also thought we might want to rethink the mix of businesses in the expansion. Here's some of what Jaoui had to say:

I read that some retailers are leaving the Claremont Village West. I was not surprised. As a former apparel importer and wholesaler, I phoned the developer twice to inquire about leasing space and never received a return call.

I also felt that the exuberance for high end retailers was misplaced since much disposable income in Claremont was garnered from debt such as home equity loans and the like. I think that Claremont could forgo perusing (and paying) for consultants if the town focused on inviting youth oriented retailers to the vacant stores in the Village West. I can imagine a Buffalo Exchange store, a store like Wacko on Melrose Ave. in L.A., a sushi business that is not high end, but is affordable, such as you find in other college towns, a fine cheese store like the Cheese Store in Beverly Hills, and maybe a trendy high end clothing boutique a la Fred Segal’s.

And yesterday, the Courier had a letter from reader Margaret Kreidler, who thought that rather than spend money on branding Claremont, we need to target a younger demographic:
Don’t spend money on slogans, get a few college students (pay them if you need to), maybe a few high schoolers and listen to them. My college students come home, want to go out with friends, but where? Heroes—older crowd. Village Grille—closes early. Pizza n’Such—older. Walters? All the new ones in Village West—expensive and older crowds. The new pub—actually great, but crowded and lots of “olders” tend to stake out the tables reading, and visiting for so long that others give up. We need more like that, though.

Meanwhile, Claremont business owner Chas Seward had an Op-Ed piece last Saturday, November 15th, responding to Carrie Young's letter urging the branding initiative. To Seward's thinking, it doesn't make much sense to toss money down the marketing drain at a time when the economy has gone into the toilet. Seward also writes that the larger new retailers in the Village need to step up and help with some of the marketing costs:
There are people in Claremont who did not fall off the turnip truck yesterday and have wonderful, creative suggestions just like Ms. Young. Unfortunately, they usually require dollars to execute. The sad reality is that there are no major retailers in the Claremont Village willing to support a sustained marketing effort and it has fallen on the underfunded City staffers to become makeshift marketers, along with a small group of volunteer merchants. Chico's, American Apparel and Laemmle — marquee brands lured by the City— have left it to the "mom & pops" to come up with the marketing bucks.

Ms. Young is now in favor of spending taxpayer's money on high-priced consultants to perform a branding study and tell us about our "essence" while Village merchants are out purchasing 'for lease' signs. The City helped build a new shopping precinct in the West Village and the mistakes it has made are well documented. Throwing money at a branding campaign during the economic meltdown is ill-advised and not necessary. It should have been done before the Village expansion opened, along with an ad campaign, strategic signage, and agreements from the new major retailers to spend advertising dollars. Now Ms. Young recommends entrusting this same administration to re-brand Claremont. Wait six months and the Village will have re-branded itself.