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Laguna Beach merchants hit by flooding worry about Christmas business

December 22, 2010 |  2:07 pm

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At Brussels Bistro, a cellar restaurant and bar in downtown Laguna Beach, owner Thomas Crijns, 34, and friends mopped up with push brooms, trying to deal with more than 2 1/2 feet of water that had accumulated overnight.

The subterranean tavern, a favorite of locals and especially European transplants, was among the hardest hit by the recent storms pummeling the community, but Crijns said he was closed anyway for Christmas Eve and Christmas and hoped to make up his losses after the holiday.

"I've had better Christmases," the Belgian native said in French, as a friend translated.

Elsewhere, Dave Thomas, owner of Areo gifts and home accessories, dried off and reopened for Christmas shoppers.

"Hello? We're gift wrapping over here!" said the San Juan Capistrano resident, who added that he expected locals, in a show of support, would make up the business lost to the storms after the holiday.

Meanwhile, Landon Gold, 18, and Cody Beckett, 15, grabbed their body boards and headed for Aliso Beach on Wednesday morning after seeing an inland creek overflow into the street near their homes in Rancho Santa Margarita. They had seen online photos of a stationary wave that sometimes forms when Aliso Creek floodwaters meet the ocean, and were hoping for the ride of their lives.

But they found no standing wave at the outflow, just roiling surges of muddy creek water into the ocean, where equally brown waves were crashing ashore under storm clouds, the combination chewing away much of the beach a quarter mile south of the Montage Laguna Beach resort.

Even if there had been a wave to ride, the teenagers said they wouldn't have dared go in. Instead they joined a dozen onlookers at a railing above the creek, shaking their heads at the roiling outflow of water.

"It's insane -– way wider than we expected," Landon said.

In Laguna's flood-prone downtown, water gushed out when employees opened the back door of the Art of the Soul gift store about 9 a.m., leaving four inches of mud on the floor. Two hours later, workers had shoveled most of the brown goo into Forest Avenue, the main shopping street downtown, and Laguna Beach contractor Russell Barnes, a specialist in restoration work, was handing out business cards to the shop owners.

Art of Soul owner Valinda Martin said she might be calling Barnes to help repair the unexpectedly heavy damage to her shop. She said the city, reacting to previous floods, had torn up Forest Avenue to improve the storm drains shortly after she opened the shop in 1993, and winter rains hadn't bothered her -– until this year.

"They really tried to prevent this -– but it was just six straight days of rain," she said. "No one can last through that with the beach right there -– there's just nowhere for all that water to go."

Across the street, employees and hastily hired additional workers scrubbed the slate floor at Sadie Devaney, a women's clothing store that opened last summer. Owner Deanna Frieze said nearly a week of rain had driven shoppers away from the streets of downtown Laguna, dashing merchants' hopes for last-minute Christmas sales to salvage what has been a tough year economically.

"It's not just the flood," she said. "It's the last five days of solid rain. And you know everybody is heading to the mall, indoors, instead of here."

RELATED:

Latest photos: Series of storms hits Southern California

Even the sea lions in Laguna Canyon are forced to evacuate

Hundreds evacuated in San Juan Capistrano as creek bed collapses

Storm traps hotel residents in Mission Valley, shuts down SeaWorld

-- Scott Reckard and Gale Holland in Laguna Beach

Photo: Katherine Story sweeps mud from her flooded clothing boutique on Ocean Avenue in downtown Laguna Beach. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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