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Hansen: A map for every hipster

August 09, 2012|By David Hansen

Like any good tourist town, Laguna Beach has maps — lots of them.

They litter every coffee shop, hotel lobby and corner business. But behind the slick trifolds is a fickle and driven local advertising industry that will try just about anything to stand out.

Enter the HIP district of Laguna. Did you even know there was a HIP district of Laguna?

Chances are, no.

Launched about three years ago, it's largely the brainchild of Joe Hanauer, a real estate veteran who owns Sapphire and several other buildings in Laguna. The self-proclaimed business district, which is an acronym for Historic and Interesting Places, sits between Thalia Street and Bluebird Canyon.

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The HIP district is a way for those businesses to pool their money and promote the area, very much like a cooperative.

"It's about getting our name out there, and getting people to understand that this is a place where they can go and have a lot of fun and do a lot of things and experience the best of Laguna," said Steve Dotoratos, who runs the public relations and marketing for the group.

These types of entrepreneurial advertising programs are common. The wrinkle here is the way in which the businesses are defining an area of a city with no real public involvement.

They write the checks, create the advertising and voila, we have a "HIP" district. It's called marketing.

This cultural blank check is not limited to the well-heeled business community. Laguna Beach has carved out its own little districts. The city's official map lists areas like Gallery Row District in North Laguna, the Canyon Arts District, Civic Arts District and the Village Arts District.

Whether it's a business initiative or civic hyperbole, the goals are similar: make a mark to boost business.

So is it working?

"I'm pretty down with the HIP district," said author and Laguna resident Niki Smart, tongue firmly in cheek. "At first I wasn't sure what they were going for."

Smart has worked in Laguna for 14 years and is a four-year resident. She is typical of residents who barely glance at all the tourist literature. Sipping a beverage at Koffee Klatch, she did not know she was in the HIP district.

"I haven't really associated that word with the area," she said. "Maybe they could call it midtown hip district."

Exactly. Midtown.

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