The tourist season that just was in San Juan Capistrano was either a step up from last year or a struggle, depending on the business owner you ask.
While construction at the Ortega Highway bridge over the I-5 Freeway may be putting the squeeze on vehicular traffic, human traffic along downtown streets seemed anecdotally packed on the weekends this summer.
“The summer was great!” said Christina Haakenson, spokeswoman for Mission San Juan Capistrano. “Concerts and camp programs sold-out again, the opening of our new gate house and new Mission store exceeded expectations.
“Overall weekly activities and summer programming were well attended. We even attracted cliff swallows back to the Mission to nest,” Haakenson added.
Cal Grimes, general manager at Swallows Inn – an institution in its own right in San Juan Capistrano – also reported increased business.
“Numbers were up, and I too noticed a positive vibe from the streets,” Grimes said. “Not sure what it stemmed from, but there appeared to be much more foot traffic than in the past.”
Despite a chokepoint at Ortega, Grimes sees nothing but good things on the horizon.
“With new businesses coming in on a regular basis, things can only get better,” he said. “I think the horse and carriage has added a lot to downtown. They have a great guide and speaker on board and they talk about a lot of the downtown businesses.”
The horse and buggy began in July and offers tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The cost is $5 for adults, $1 for children 10 and under.
“It has been a huge hit,” agreed former City Councilwoman Laura Freese, who is spearheading the city’s Economic Preservation Committee with the goal of helping local businesses survive the Ortega project.
But while some businesses gained in foot traffic this summer, others report a similar tourist season as last year’s – or even worse, said Mark Bodenhamer, chief executive officer for the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce.
“The general consensus is that business seems to be about the same as last summer or perhaps a little bit slower. However, the shops and restaurants have had to work twice as hard and get more creative with marketing efforts to keep those numbers up,” Bodenhamer said.
“Of course, last year was not exactly a banner year for merchants and restaurateurs. So, while flat-lining may be considered a relatively positive outcome considering the Ortega issue, local businesses still face an uphill battle to get back to substantial profitability,” he said, adding his hope that local residents and city leaders will do all they can to support the local economy.