Bill O'Sullivan didn't know what to do with his collection of 10,000 books after he and his wife moved into the Hueneme Bay senior community seven years ago. There simply wasn't enough room for all of them.
Needing a place to keep his collection and seeing a chance to make some money at the same time, O'Sullivan decided to open a used-book store. So he went in search of affordable rental space in Port Hueneme.
After the large malls turned him down because of the small size of his business, Sullivan located a vacant shop at Town and Shore Village, a small strip mall just down the street from his new home on Channel Islands Boulevard.
The two-block, 21,000-square-foot complex, which is across from the Naval Construction Battalion Center, welcomed him with open arms.
O'Sullivan was the perfect tenant for the small mall that prides itself as a home for first-time businesses. Today, Town and Shore is home to 30 independently operated businesses.
From Day 1, Town and Shore's developers say, the 20-year-old mall was intended to serve as a launching point for small-business owners and entrepreneurs. With mega-malls everywhere, the complex, with no chain stores to anchor it, is a throwback to the past.
"These little shopping centers were the backbone of these small towns," O'Sullivan said. "This is one of the last stands of private industry in the U. S."
Town and Shore's tenants include a sports collectible operation, a computer service, a watch repair shop, a florist and several family-run restaurants. The average shop is 450 square feet.
The average size of a small-scale business at most large malls is about triple that size, according to Keith Fox of the International Council of Shopping Centers, a national organization of shopping center owners and operators. Stores at The Esplanade shopping center in Oxnard, in comparison, average about 2,300 square feet, according to mall spokeswoman Pam Hartwell.
Fox said it is becoming increasingly difficult to find shops on the scale of Town and Shore's.
"A 100,000-square-foot, even a 50,000-square-foot center is pretty small. Twenty-five thousand is tiny," he said. "This is an anomaly. Because of the scale, it's just not cost-efficient to have such small stores."
Robert E. Rodgers Jr., general partner of Partnership Offices, which owns the shopping center, said his group has always sought new and small businesses for Town and Shore.
"When I built the thing, the idea was there wasn't any of those size stores around, period," Rodgers said. "It's good if you have a business where you just don't need a lot of space. People can get their feet wet there, too. If they make a mistake, they don't lose too much."
Partnership Offices also owns the neighboring Mercado Via Mar shopping center, where the average stores are two to three times larger than those at Town and Shore.
Rodgers said his rental rate at Town and Shore, about $1.25 per square foot, is something the small businesses can afford. His tenants agree.
It was the rate that attracted Bill Webster, co-owner of Personal Computer Services, to Town and Shore.
"We're not paying the exorbitant mall rates," Webster said. "We saw what other people wanted to charge and said, 'This can't happen.' It just wouldn't have worked."
Linda Whetstone, the third owner in the history of Pottle's Florist, which has been a tenant since 1973, said she purchased space in the shopping center because the size and location particularly suited her business.
"For personalized type of service, sometimes a big mall hurts you," she said. "We're all family-run businesses. . . . It's like back in the old days, the little country-store type of business."
Whetstone, like other shop owners, said she doesn't feel any competition from the larger shopping centers nearby.
Louie Candelaria, owner of Crafts Etc., also found the mall's location, close to both the naval base and the senior community, to be a real boon.
He said Hueneme Bay residents come by his store regularly and "the Navy wives just have to walk across the street."
For Gloria Kordel of Hemlines Etc. and Heart to Heart Bridal shop, it's the relatively low operating costs of a small operation that please her.
"I could go in a larger store, but I'm funny about overhead," she said. "I like to keep my money."