Village vacancies becoming prevalent


Vacancies in the Rancho Santa Fe’s village are becoming increasingly prevalent. More and more streetfront windows reveal cleared-out office spaces with Realtors’ numbers affixed to the glass.

On the corner of Paseo Delicias, the big empty storefront that was formerly occupied by Marilyn Malloy Jewelry store is the most noticeable. The store moved to the former Plume location behind Willis Allen and is run by new owner Colleen Freeman, who took it over on Aug. 1.

At least one village vacancy, next to the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society, is about to be filled. La Jolla’s Joseph Bellows Gallery is moving in next month after it completes some renovation work on the space.

The gallery will be smaller than the gallery he’s owned for 10 years in La Jolla, but Bellow said, “I love that little spot.”

The Rancho Santa Fe resident said it wasn’t in his plans to open up another location, but he recently moved into the village. While he was in the village picking up his dry cleaning or getting a cup of coffee, he’d notice what he called a “perfect and charming” space up for rent.

None of the vacant spaces are short on the charm that sold Bellows.

The empty 1,888-square-foot space at 16192 Via de Santa Fe features picturesque archways leading into its entrance and a walkway back to a courtyard. Crisp white adobe, wooden window trims and glass doors come standard on the Lilian Rice originals.

The for lease postings are just an unfortunate sign of the times, said Mark Bitterlin, founder of Bitterlin Companies, a real estate asset management, brokerage and development firm that has had several village properties available for some time.

Bitterlin Companies’ vacant office spaces are called the “F Block” on Via de Santa Fe, Paseo Delicias and La Granada.

A peek through one window on La Granada shows hardwood floors, chocolate brown painted walls and even a little fireplace in the corner.

Bitterlin said they had about 12 inquires a week on the properties up until three months ago but it has since slowed down. Bitterlin said Rancho Santa Fe’s rental rates are about the same level as downtown La Jolla’s, about $3.46 a square foot.

The slumping economy is not news to anyone, and Bitterlin blames the e-word for the departures of many village offices. Those that left were in the financial and real estate markets that have taken huge hits, he said.

“A lot of the Ranch is either financial- or real estate-related or both,” he said of the amount of developers, construction, architecture and lending institutions that used to inhabit village offices.

“We’re in the worst recession in close to 50 years,” Bitterlin said. “When the economy improves, people will come back.”