Kevin Cody

Beach 2016: Business review in Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach

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The risks to conglomerates who acquire popular, family-owned businesses was dramatically illustrated in 2016 with the sales of Redondo Beach-based Body Glove and Manhattan Beach-based Shorewood Realtors.

Body Glove, the South Bay’s largest and oldest surf industry company and one of the most recognized brand names in the world, was positioned for exponential growth following its sale to New York-based Marquee Brands.

By contrast, Shorewood Realtors, formerly the beach cities largest home seller, went into bankruptcy just 18 months after being acquired by Denver based LBH Holdings.

The supermarket and hotel industries also experienced mixed results at the beach in 2016. Hermosa Beach welcomed a Trader Joe’s, North Redondo wished for  a Trader Joe’s or any supermarket and Manhattan Beach was divided over a proposed Gelson’s.

In Redondo, a new waterfront hotel was well received. In Hermosa, two hotel developers made progress while a third bailed, In Manhattan, a new hotel was put on indefinite hold, following opposition from seniors.

Body Glove co-founder Bob Meistrell aboard the Body Glove Boat “Disappearance.” Body Glove’s sale has thrown into question its continued support of local charities and events, such as the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Race. PHoto by Greg Browning

Body Glove goes big

Body Glove CEO Robbie Meistrell announced in October that his family had sold 75 percent of the company founded by his dad Bob and uncle Bill in 1966. The wetsuit manufacturer and licensing company was a spin-off of Dive N’ Surf, the Redondo Beach dive shop owned by the Meistrell family since 1953. Buyer Marquee Brands is a $400 million licensing and development fund. Body Glove was the two-year-old holding company’s third acquisition. It previously had acquired the luxury Italian footwear brand Bruno Magli and British shirtmaker Ben Sherman.

Body Glove president Russ Lesser described the transaction as a win-win deal for both the Meistrell family and Marquee Brands. But not all the local changes were positive. Following the transaction, many longtime employees left, including  Scott Daley, Body Glove’s popular vice president of marketing and team manager for the past three decades.

The Meistrell family retained Dive N’ Surf and, happily for local charities, the 62-foot Disappearance. Whale watching trips aboard Disappearance, donated for decades by the Meistrell family, have raised upwards of $1 million at charity auctions.

Shorewood founders Larry Wolf and Arnold Goldstein with Realtors at its newly opened downtown Manhattan Beach office in 2013.

Shorewood goes away

After founding Shorewood Realtors in 1969, Arnold Goldstein and Larry Wolf adopted a paternalistic management style, despite their industry’s cutthroat practices. The approach built loyalty among both Realtors and local home owners. When the octogenarian Goldstein and septuagenarian Wolf sold to LBH Holdings in March 2014, Shorewood had grown to nine Beach Cities and Palos Verdes offices and 350 employees. It was Los Angeles County’s eighth largest real estate company by sales dollars and 75th nationwide.

This past July, LBH threw Shorewood into bankruptcy. CEO Roger Herman flew out from his Denver headquarters to assure Shorewood agents, “We’re very profitable this year… The [parent company’s] bankruptcy filing  had nothing to do with [Shorewood’s] financial issues.”

Shorewood’s agents weren’t sold. By August, over 200 agents had left the company, leading Herman to sell what remained of the company to Palos Verdes-based Vista Sotheby’s.

Tyler Wolf, son of co-founder Larry Wolf, said, “ It’s sad. I’m not sure there was a real estate company in the South Bay that was older and more successful than Shorewood.”

Roger Bacon welcomed Trader Joe’s to his Hermosa Beach shopping center in 2016. Photo by Kevin Cody

Market bullish on markets

After trying for more than two decades to bring a Trader Joe’s market to Hermosa Beach, Roger Bacon finally signed the foodie emporium to a lease in his Park Pacific Shopping Center on Pacific Coast Highway and Aviation Boulevard. Bacon opened the center with an Alpha Beta in 1976. The Ralphs that replaced the Alpha Beta in 1989, closed last year. The new, 25,000 square-foot Trader Joe’s opened in October.

Trader Joe’s has seven other South Bay stores — two in Manhattan Beach, two in Torrance, two in Rancho Palos Verdes and one in Redondo Beach’s Riviera Village.

Trader Joe’s South Bay expansion followed closures in the last two years of three Haggen Foods (formerly Albertsons) in Redondo Beach, a Value Plus in Redondo and Fresh and Easy markets in Hermosa and El Segundo, plus the Hermosa Ralphs.

Jons International Marketplace opened in May in the former Value Plus location on 190th Street in South Redondo and Smart and Final took over the two South Redondo Haggen locations. But the Haggen location on Artesia in North Redondo remains vacant, to the frustration of North Redondo residents.

While North Redondo fights to get a market, Manhattan residents are fighting to stop upscale Gelson’s  from opening at the long vacant Champion Chevrolet site, at Sepulveda Boulevard and  Sixth Street. Gelson scaled back its proposal to 7,000 square feet in an effort to allay fears that it will it worsen traffic and parking problems.

Another upscale market targeting the Beach cities is Lazy Acres, a natural foods market owned by Bristol Farms, which has locations in Manhattan Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes. In January, Hope Chapel announced it had reached a tentative agreement to lease its teen center to Lazy Acres. The Pacific Coast Highway and Artesia Boulevard site was originally a Lucky’s Market and then an Albertson’s. The Albertson’s closed in 2006.

The popular church will use proceeds from Lazy Acres to remodel its adjacent church building to accommodate its ever growing congregation.

Pier and Strand’s new downtown Hermosa Beach design received city and community approval in 2016.

Bring ‘em, book ‘em

The Beach Cities further burnished their growing reputation as a vacation destination with openings and plans for openings of half a dozen new luxury hotels. In November, the long delayed Shade Redondo Beach Hotel opened on Harbor Drive. Guests can watch the ocean sunsets from balcony bathtubs outside each of the 54 rooms.

In June, Pacifica Hotels completed a $4 million renovation of the 81-room Hermosa Hotel, which it acquired in 2014, at Pacific Coast Highway and Artesia Boulevard. The improvements included a giant jenga game in the patio that sounds like cannon fire, according to neighboring condo owners who complained to Hermosa Beach’s Planning Commission.  

Among Pacifica’s two dozen other California coast community hotels are the Belamar in Manhattan Beach and the Redondo Beach Hotel, across from Shade Redondo, which underwent a $13 million renovation in 2015.

Downtown Hermosa saw one hotel begin construction, a second hotel win council and resident approval and a third hotel cancelled.

In March, three years after developer Raju Chhabria received approval to build a 30-room hotel at 15th Street and Hermosa Avenue, the hotel groundbreaking was celebrated with a Hindu prayer ceremony. Chhabria’s other Hermosa Beach properties include the office he built for his company at Pier and Manhattan Avenue, three storefronts he bought and remodeled in the 1200 block of Hermosa Avenue and five Hermosa Avenue storefronts covering the block immediate south of H20.

Community resistance to the 111-room Strand & Pier Hotel planned for the northwest corner of Hermosa’s Pier Plaza melted away in January when developer Balour and Associates agreed to lower the height from 45 feet to the city’s 30-foot limit and to provide some underground parking. The accommodations were made possible by the hotel’s acquisition of the adjacent Hermosa Cyclery and motel properties, Mark Bolour said. Portland-based operator Provenance Hotels said the luxury hotel will feature work by local artists, as do their Hotel Max in downtown Seattle and Hotel Murano in Tacoma.

In 2014, OTO Development told the Hermosa council it wished to build a 100-room business traveler hotel on 11th Street, between Hermosa Avenue and The Strand. This year, OTO cancelled the plan, citing concerns about parking and costly delays they anticipated in getting approval from the beleaguered Coastal Commission. OTO found a more welcoming environment in El Segundo. In November, it opened a 171-room Hampton Inn and Suites at Sepulveda and Imperial boulevards. OTO also built and operates the Hyatt Place and Marriott hotels in El Segundo.

Manhattan Beach was the only beach city without a new hotel in the works. In July, councilmembers searched for a hotel developer to build on a city owned parking lot behind Manhattan Village, on Parkview Avenue. The council was hopeful of reaping both lease revenue and Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue from the idle property, as it does from the Manhattan Marriott. Shade Hotel and Hyatt both expressed interest. But opponents from the neighboring Manhattan Senior Villas packed a July council meeting. “Remember which segment of the population votes,” one senior warned. The council tabled the issue.

Manhattan Toyota owner Bradley Sperber is joined by city officials in a ribbon cutting for the newly remodeled dealership. Photo by Kevin Cody

Toyota’s new place

A two-handed Katana sword with a lacquered wood case was  presented to Manhattan Beach Toyota owners Andrisa and Bradley Sperber by a representative from the Japanese automaker in December. The occasion was the unveiling of the 5.5 acre dealership’s $7.5 million remodel. The Sperbers’s plan to exhibit the traditional Samurai sword in a display case celebrating the life of Bradley’s father Darrell, who passed away from leukemia in January 2015, at age 68.

Darrell initiated his dealership’s remodel and continued working on it until his final hospital days. At the unveiling, former Manhattan Beach councilman Richard Montgomery called Sperber the “Mayor of Manhattan” because of his extensive community involvement.

“One of his goals for the remodel was simply to help beautify Sepulveda Boulevard,” Bradley Sperber said. ER

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