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Redondo Beach Pier Tries to Rekindle Business

June 12, 1988|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

The radio ad never mentions the fire. "Fishermen are still fishing, bicyclers are still bicycling and strollers are still strolling . . ." the announcer says.

"So stroll in the sun, have cotton candy, a hot dog on a stick or fresh crab cooked to order. People-watch, window-shop or take a boat ride. Play hundreds of games, win a stuffed animal or ride the tilt-a-whirl."

But there is anxiety beneath that sunny picture--and behind the radio campaign aimed at bringing visitors to the Redondo Beach Pier.

Extensive Damages

The May 27 fire at the pier caused more than $7 million in damage to public and private property. It destroyed 15 businesses and tossed 65 people out of work. Some of those who work for about 66 businesses that were unscathed say they are victims of a widespread impression that the pier is closed.

"It has slowed down because everybody thinks the pier is gone," said Kim Swarts, manager of Craig's Hotdog on a Stick.

Attendance at the Redondo Fun Factory, which is sponsoring the ads, is about half what it was before the fire, according to Eric von Goerlitz, general manager. The Fun Factory has 300 games, including the tilt-a-whirl ride.

The ads will air 16 times, Von Goerlitz said. "We've never run a promo on radio before."

He said he would expect business to improve "with or without advertising. On the other hand, I don't want to take a chance. . . We at the Fun Factory felt it was necessary to get something out very quickly."

While city officials are debating how to rebuild the pier, others who feel the pinch also are planning to act quickly. As a stopgap measure, the city is working to provide a covered area for a half-dozen stores burned out in the fire.

At the El Torito restaurant, where manager Alejandro Macedo said "business is very bad," management is considering offering coupons--a $5 discount for every check over $10--and more mariachi music. Macedo estimated sales at "a little bit over 50%" of pre-fire volume.

"After the fire, for the next three days, people came to the pier to see what happened, but then the pier is empty," he said. "We are wondering whether it is the weather--the weather is windy and cold--or whether the pier is not fun any more."

The restaurant has a mariachi band just on Mondays, Macedo said. "And Monday is good. We are thinking to follow that all the week and to get one guy singing in the bar."

Chuck Rink, district operator for the Irvine-based El Torito Restaurants chain, said the promotions are aimed at attracting more people to the pier.

Von Goerlitz of the Fun Factory agreed. "This (poor attendance) is a by-product of reporting a spectacular disaster. The majority of what is here is still alive and well.

"We felt it was important to get something out and to get something out about the whole area, not just about ours. If people come to the area, they will wander into the Fun Factory sooner or later. . . . We made a decision to go out on our own and we did it. Period."

Rink said that some of the master leaseholders are trying to get a public relations firm to promote pier renovation. The city leases much of King Harbor, which includes the pier, to several master leaseholders who run businesses or sublease space.

Temporary Shelters

The city's tent project, expected to start later this month, will provide a presence for some firms that lost their buildings in the fire. "We have a long-term concern about the businesses," said Sheila Schoettger, Redondo Beach harbor director.

Schoettger said the city will set up a fabric roof to shelter areas where the Slightly Different gift store, Sunshine Kite shop, Imports Oriental jewelry and gift store, Pacific Gem and Pearl shop, Pier Sunglasses and Redondo Sportswear will set up operations. The other burned-out businesses were excluded because they sold food, which requires a health permit.

At last Tuesday's City Council meeting, city officials grappled with the long-term problem of restoring the pier.

City Manager Tim Casey said that the Harbor Department is "brainstorming possible fund-raising opportunities" to channel the outpouring of public sentiment.

Casey said that plans for a Save the Pier Fund are being drafted in a comprehensive report on the fire and its aftermath. If the fund is established by a City Council vote, individuals and corporations could make tax-deductible contributions to help reconstruct the pier.

Casey stressed the need to maintain a continuous "state of local emergency," which would include the severe storm damage to the pier in January, further damage caused by wind-swept waves in April, as well as the May fire.

"That, in my opinion,is the only way we will be able to qualify for federal financial assistance--not only for Redondo Beach, but possibly for the private sector as well," said Casey.

While new designs and construction plans are being formulated, a primary objective will be to repair the remaining section of the pier in time to face winter storms, he added.

The Fire Department will conclude its investigation within the next two weeks and is seeking information from anyone who was in the area at 1:30 p.m. when the fire broke out.

Community Correspondent Kathee Yamamoto contributed to this article.

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