Featured Image: (From left) Los Molinos District business owners—Christine Morgan, Lisa Hatch, Dawn Termini-Sinacori, Leah Rodarti, Stacy Volkart, Corinn Caldwell, and Mary Connolly—gathered on Nov. 7 for an introspective conversation about life in the district. Photo: C. Jayden Smith
By C. Jayden Smith
On a cold Monday evening in early November, sitting around a table inside a small art studio along the well-known Calle de Los Molinos, are seven women and business owners looking to make their mark.
Some had never met the others in the room. By the end of the roundtable, however, all would leave with a sense of community and familiarity that could help guide them forward in the always-precarious endeavor of running a business.
“I think female energy is where it’s at, personally,” said Leah Rodarti, host and owner of Small Space Studio and Shop. “I really do. And I’m a big believer in bringing women together, lifting women (up), and women supporting each other.”
During the roundtable, Rodarti sat alongside Corinn Caldwell, owner of The Pilates Room SC; Mary Connolly, owner of CBD wellness store Mary’s Jane; Lisa Hatch, co-owner of the earth-conscious Terra; Christine Morgan of Mill Street Mercantile; Dawn Termini-Sinacori of Seadrift Soul; and UsedSurf co-owner Stacy Volkart.
These women are all artists in their own ways, all of whom love the sea and the town of San Clemente that houses its own piece of the endless Pacific Ocean. And they’re trying to make the city better by putting their own spin on a business district that has historically been dominated by male presences in the automotive and surfing industries.
Volkart has operated out of her current space in the Los Molinos district, colloquially referred to as the “Surf Ghetto” neighborhood, for the longest time among the group, at nearly 12 years.
With Rodarti moving into her studio’s location after nine years elsewhere and getting to know more women who have also recently set up shop in Los Molinos, she felt that the group had a real story to tell.
“I’ve always been very much about empowerment,” Rodarti said, adding that her goal with the roundtable was to let people know about the “beautiful, great energy” in the district.
When Volkart first started to spend more time in Los Molinos years ago, she questioned whether she fit within the area’s intimidating culture.
“That’s one thing I know that we do in our shop, is (making) sure everybody feels welcome,” Volkart said. “I think that what women can do to an area is make you feel more at home or a little bit comfortable.”
On the same note, Connolly said that women-owned businesses can brighten up areas and make the atmosphere more friendly, and that the group’s presence has quickly and dramatically changed the Surf Ghetto, in her view.
Termini-Sinacori pointed to the Los Molinos Beer Company’s opening as a “shot in the arm” to the district in general.
A San Clemente native whose mother was in San Clemente High School’s first graduating Class of 1965, Termini-Sinacori remembered how the Surf Ghetto was full of surfboard shapers, as well as steelworkers and mechanics in the ’60s and ’70s. As she noticed Avenida Del Mar shifting over the decades, she learned that she wanted to run her dream boutique in an area with “an edge.”
The arrivals of Caldwell, Connolly, Hatch and Morgan over the past year have further increased Termini-Sinacori’s excitement regarding Los Molinos’ future.
“I feel that there’s a collective consciousness of, ‘Something’s brewing down here,’ ” Termini-Sinacori said. “I don’t think it’s like, ‘The women are taking over.’ I don’t want that.”
She spoke of the male friends within the area who have been supportive, such as surfboard giants Terry Senate and Timmy Patterson, and emphasized their desire to push past naysayers, embrace Los Molinos’ “edginess,” and support each other.
Hatch also pointed out that each business aimed to empower people to become better versions of themselves by raising awareness about the choices they can make, whether in buying clothes or household items, in line with the theme of empowerment that remained throughout the night.
When detailing how she opened her shop, longtime businesswoman Morgan recalled passing her storefront numerous times during her runs in the area and always wondering why it was vacant.
Morgan laughed as she told of stepping inside Suite D at 208 Calle de Los Molinos and realizing how “interesting” and “artsy” the interior used to be.
“That’s part of what we all love about it down here,” she said. “Everything’s quirky and different. It’s like the perfect little place.”
Morgan added that with Senate as her next-door neighbor, she instantly felt comfortable and supported by others in the area.
In terms of dealing with a lack of immediate visibility to San Clemente visitors and patrons, Volkart said opening UsedSurf was difficult but a good experience overall. The district hadn’t been known for retail shopping at the time, but Volkart and her partner kept working and doing the best they could to build a solid business.
Their patience and perseverance eventually drew in more people, she said.
Hatch, who has opened Terra within the past year, said that while it would be beneficial for everyone to have signage on El Camino Real and Avenida Pico, she knew word of mouth was the key factor.
She mentioned a recent memory of talking to a couple who had visited her store about jeans she was wearing from Termini-Sinacori’s Seadrift Soul, and encouraging them to visit Termini-Sinacori’s business, as they were clearly into sustainability.
Hatch said she believes that, like UsedSurf, all the women’s businesses will naturally attract customers because of the good each woman wants to bring into the world.
“Yes, I’d love it if we have more people walking by our shop physically,” said Hatch. “We just have to be that lighthouse, that beacon, that draws people to us.”
Termini-Sinacori added that the group will continue to pull all the strings necessary to help each other be successful regardless of what challenges face them.
Referring to the women as determined “hustlers,” Termini-Sinacori said they’ll look to find success through word of mouth, social media shout-outs, and collaborative events that bring eyes to each others’ businesses.
Rodarti spoke to Hatch’s “hidden” shop, Terra, in Plaza Bonita along El Camino Real as an example of where the group could provide help. She said that if anyone faced obstacles in getting their business promoted, others had a responsibility to pitch in.
Caldwell reflected on how she didn’t know most of the women present to begin the night.
“It’s cool now, just meeting all of you girls, and this conversation about building each other up and building each other’s businesses,” she said.
Caldwell added that she’d start referring her clients to the other stores in Los Molinos going forward.
“It’s kind of like, ‘Oh, man, I’m having this issue right now,’ ” Volkart said of the support the women could find in one another. “(Then somebody says,) ‘Have you tried this?’ It’s just support to where you don’t feel alone.”
The women resolved to meet more often from that point on, as they continue to build their relationships and businesses in San Clemente.
C. Jayden Smith
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.