CARLSBAD — Major surf apparel and equipment retailer Sun Diego may move into the former Ocean House location in Carlsbad Village, dashing local business owners’ hopes to turn the site into a new restaurant and music venue.
Several local business people were in the process of buying the former Ocean House business to open Nineteen Nineteen, a new restaurant and bar with a music venue in the site’s gazebo-like ballroom, according to Jon Wantz who helped bring the deal together.
Ocean House was the latest restaurant to operate in the historic Victorian mansion located at the corner of Carlsbad Village Drive and Carlsbad Boulevard.
The distinctive blue home was originally built in 1887 for one of Carlsbad’s first prominent businessmen Gerhard Schutte. The mansion was eventually turned into a hotel called the Twin Inns, which was sold in 1984. The building has held offices and restaurants ever since.
Ocean House opened there in 2006, but the popular dining and dancing venue closed after sustaining flooding damage this May.
The interested Nineteen Nineteen party, which included the owners of Boar Cross’n and Mas Fina Cantina, started the process of taking over Ocean House’s business, property lease, and liquor license in late June, said Wantz.
A couple months later, their deposit was in escrow and the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control had just about transferred the liquor license from Ocean House to the new venture.
But in mid-September, the landlord of the historic property, Sima Management Corp., pulled Ocean House’s lease and halted the progress of Nineteen Nineteen.
Sima Management Corp. is instead pursuing a deal to start a new lease on the property with Sun Diego.
Vice President of Operations and Marketing for Sun Diego Pete Censoplano said that the company would make an announcement about the possibility of opening its tenth location at the former Ocean House site, “If and when something happens.”
Sima Management Corp. did not respond to a request for comment.
Numerous Carlsbad business owners and residents are wary about a large retailer moving into the landmark property.
Chair of the Carlsbad Historical Preservation Committee, Murray Levy, mentioned the matter during public comment before Carlsbad City Council on Oct. 8.
“I think it’s a very important identity of the city,” said Levy. “For over 100 years it’s been a restaurant and now it’s going to be retail.”
He asked city council that if the matter came before them, “Really look at it very carefully.”
A “Save Ocean House” petition to stop Sun Diego from taking over the building was started on the website Change.org about a week ago and so far has garnered more than 1,400 signatures.
The petition states, “If our beloved Ocean House is turned into a retail chain…it would devastate the city residents, employees and economy of the area.”
It encouraged supporters to write the co-owners of Ocean House and city council members urging them to prevent the site from being turned into a retail store.
Carlsbad Village is already home to several locally-owned surf shops, but Sun Diego would be the first major surf store in the downtown area.
“As far as the Village is concerned, it’s not great for us. (Sun Diego is) a corporate business,” said Amanda Solie, manager of Raw Skin Surf Shack on Carlsbad Boulevard.
She said that right now the cluster of smaller surf shops in the Village balance each other out by offering different brands of surf clothing and equipment, but Sun Diego would shift that balance since the store would offer every major brand in one store.
“I know my locals will stay local and true to us, but they (Sun Diego) have every company,” she said.
“We don’t need another surf shop,” Solie said, adding that she would much prefer a small concert venue instead. “I think that’s the one thing this town is missing, a good music venue.”
As for the Nineteen Nineteen entrepreneurs, Wantz said that they don’t feel that they have enough legal ground to fight Sima. He emphasized that there is no hard feelings against Sun Diego, even though they would prefer to have another restaurant in the space and not a retail shop.
Wantz said the Ocean House owners are suffering the most from having their lease pulled.
Ocean House owners Martin Blair and Max Gutierrez could not be reached for comment, however the business is currently selling its restaurant supplies and furniture.
“They (the Ocean House owners) have no value to their business now,” Wantz said. “It was the owners of the property that really did the wrong here.”