Hillcrest success attributed to customer support of local, mom-and-pop independents
By Dave Schwab | SDUN Reporter
Through 25 years of doing business in Hillcrest, there has been one constant for Column One: customer loyalty.
“I thank the community for their support all these years,” co-owner Steve Moore said. Moore owns the statuary and home accessory boutique, located at 401 University Ave., with business partner Paul Anderson. “They got us started, and they’re continuing to be loyal to us, even today,” Moore said.
Column One is in the midst of celebrating its 25th anniversary at the Hillcrest location, with a 25-day sale offering 25 percent off their entire stock, through Oct. 31. This kind of deal is not business as usual for the store.
“We determined 25 years ago there are two ways to do business,” Moore said. “Mark it up and always have a sale like most places do, or get a legitimate price all the time [and] leave it. Your customer knows that you always have a fair price, no matter when they come in.”
One loyal customer is Bankers Hill resident Tony Coletti. “Everything is absolutely unique,” Coletti said. “You’ve got phenomenal owners [who are] very caring people and very great for the community. They treat us all very well.”
Coletti said he purchased his first water fountain from Column One years ago, and comes in to browse “at least every week or two.”
“Nobody has the mix that we do,” Moore said. “It’s hard to find any other place that will have neo-classic columns or busts of the Greek gods.”
The store does offer delivery, though Moore said they often get customers coming in from all over.
“It’s not unusual for people to actually drive from Orange County or from Palm Springs, because this kind of a mix of products is not available in a lot of the cities that they live in,” he said. “It’s kind of gratifying when customers find something they can’t find somewhere else.”
Column One started in downtown San Diego, but Moore said that after 11 months they realized where they really wanted – and needed – to be was in Hillcrest.
“The beauty of Hillcrest is it’s a real eclectic mix of people,” Moore said, adding that the boutique’s corner location offers a real “window on the world.”
“Our best customers of course are homeowners,” said Moore, “but people know us as a place to buy gifts as well.”
Column One could be called a game changer in the home décor industry. Previous to the shop’s 1987 Hillcrest opening, plaster goods had been marketed almost exclusively as products for do-it-yourself hobbyists. Moore and Anderson proved that the time had come for a store devoted entirely to statues and architectural items as finished, home accessories in San Diego.
Moore said he “happened” into the business after a previous job failed to materialize when he moved to the area in the 1970s. “I took a real low-wage job at a place that sold pottery and fountains. All the rest is history,” he said.
In addition to the store’s varied offerings, which Moore and Anderson have chronicled through the years, another thing that makes Column One special is where much of its merchandise comes from.
“We probably have more U.S. products than any other store I know of,” Moore said. “Almost all of the outdoor garden-ware, and most of the interior products, are made right here in the States.”
Calling Buddha statutes the most popular, currently, Moore said that when they first started, the focus was on Southwest furnishings. “Then it moved to neo-classical and now it’s trending more contemporary. Anything with a bird on it sells like hotcakes. The whole Asian category is really big right now.”
Along with their customers’ tastes, Moore and Anderson have witnessed the Hillcrest community gradually change as well, including more diversity.
“We’ve seen the gentrification of Hillcrest,” Moore said. “It used to be a lot of seniors and gays and lesbians. Now it’s a mix of just about everybody you can imagine.”
One thing that hasn’t changed about Hillcrest though, Moore said, is customer support for local, small business.
“The clientele in Hillcrest really likes independent business,” he said. “Those businesses that come in that are a part of chains or big corporations tend to not last very long. The local community really likes the mom and pops [and] the unique little boutiques. That goes for the restaurants too. My experience is the bigger chains don’t do as well as the little, mom-and-pop independents.”
Column One is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information call 619-299-9074 or visit columnonesandiego.com.