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By Zara Flores

In 1983, a storm hit the Southern California area, warping the iconic San Clemente Pier and taking with it the shop at the end of the 1,296-foot structure. Almost 40 years later, the Pier Bait & Tackle shop that took its place—it’s also known as the snack shack—is facing a much-needed renovation and a possible change in management.

Rebecca Genszler, a San Clemente resident of more than 10 years, began working at the shack in 2017 under the management of Scott Shipley. When he moved away in 2019, Genszler took over as concessionaire, inheriting the lease and contract with the city.

“My dream was always to have a bed and breakfast, but in California, it’s very expensive to own a business,” said Genszler, who had previously worked at a corporate job and would visit Shipley at the stand on the weekends.

“All of a sudden, (Shipley) goes, ‘I want to move to Texas; do you want to take this over?’ ” she recalled of one of those visits. “I quit my corporate job, worked with him probably about a year and a half, and he started teaching me all the ins and outs of what he knew.”

While Genszler currently runs the shop at the pier, a city council vote in the coming weeks could prompt a shakeup in management at the city’s four concession stands: the pier snack shack, as well as shops at T-Street, North Beach and the Richard T. Steed Memorial Park.

At the pier location, councilmembers will consider whether to renegotiate the terms of the current contract with Genszler, put out a new request for proposals (RFP) from prospective operators, or hand the reins over to the Beaches, Parks and Recreation Department.

The news that the council was going to take the matter up for consideration came as a surprise to Genszler, who the city acknowledged has expressed interest in continuing to run the shop. 

“I knew nothing of this going on … it was a shock,” Genszler said about receiving the city’s staff report. “If they think it’s easy to run that out there, it’s not.”

Under the current terms of the contract agreement, Genszler currently pays a base rent of $300 per month, or 6% of the gross sales from the stand, whichever is higher, the city explained in its report.

The city’s recommendation to the council is to initiate the RFP process, soliciting bids from potential operators interested in running the stand, while also raising the price of rent and increasing the operating hours.

On Monday, April 19, Samantha Wylie, the city’s recreation manager, referred San Clemente Times’ request for comment to interim City Manager Erik Sund. As of press time, Sund’s office had not responded to the request.

In November 2020, the city outsourced an operational review of the four city-owned businesses to Profitable Food Facilities Worldwide in order to create a plan to optimize customer service and revenue.

The PFFW’s review of the snack shack reported that “the current operators have a good relationship with the city and have been happy with their operation,” giving Genszler a shred of hope, as she said that she’s witnessed the commercialization of small businesses. 

The council was slated to consider the concession contracts during its April 20 meeting; however, the city’s consultant, who was going to present on the item, was unable to make the meeting because of traffic delay. Sund asked the council to table the discussion until May 4.

Genszler said that she believes it will affect the tight-knit community and the relationships that have been built with the community over the past few years.

There are several challenges the shack faces, she explained, such as attaining vendors, providing all the equipment needed to run the shack, the upkeep and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the snack shack is now open only on weekends, whereas previously, it was open five days a week and six during the peak summer months.

Talks of a change in management at the tackle shop come as the local nonprofit group PierPride Foundation looks to renovate the facility. Genszler said she hopes the project will provide a better atmosphere for her employees, the customers and the wildlife.

The nonprofit has been dedicated to the maintenance, restoration and protection of the iconic San Clemente Pier, working with the city to fill the gaps and supplement costs needed for repairs.

To help pay for the foundation’s efforts in renovating the shack, PierPride members will host a virtual auction from May 19 through May 25 in the hopes of reaching their $75,000 fundraising goal.

In February 2020, the foundation conducted a survey of local residents to determine which renovations were the most important to them.

“This is the guiding line as to what we do; that’s one of the factors, as well as working with the city,” said PierPride President Eileen Kawas. “We like to understand what the community is really interested in as far as the projects that we undertake every year.”

The foundation and Genszler created a list of updates and renovations they hope to see, such as added tables and seating areas, the addition of more trash and recycle bins, public art installations and more.

The foundation hopes to reach its fundraising goal by the end of the auction so that renovations can begin in the fall after the summer boom. Hopefully, Kawas said, the project will be completed in 2022, clarifying that “it’s up to the city as to when they can handle” the renovations.

Pre-registration for the auction opens on May 5, and citizens will have a sneak peek at the items up for grabs, which include a stay at The Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point, a private plane for two to Catalina Island or Big Bear, and pier jumps—a highly sought-after experience.

Kawas made it a point to state that these pier jumps are coordinated with the lifeguards, and they are the only legal way of jumping off the pier.

“We’re looking forward to a lot of community participation,” said Kawas, who is looking forward to the renovations that future generations will be able to enjoy.

Ultimately, Genszler hopes to stay as concessionaire of the snack shack, if not permanently then at least through the end of her contract, which she said is up in 2023. However, she’s unsure if her current position as concessionaire, coupled with her community relationships, will be enough leverage for her to keep her contract with the city or if the city will want to take the reins once the shack is renovated

 “I’m sure they would still be successful, but it’s not an easy thing to do,” Genszler said of an outside company running the shack. “Building a rapport with the customers … yes, you have to make revenue, but out there, people like to stop, they like to talk, to come out and have a cup of coffee … that’s what San Clemente is all about.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the city council’s delayed consideration on the matter.

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comments (4)

  • Reading the article it sounds like the Foundation is putting Genszler out-of-a job. It sounds like the city is thinking to try to use the work by the Foundation to line its own pockets; that is, the city is not willing to renovate the pier but more than willing to try to either get more money from that work or just take something. Assuming the rent is $300/month, and given the situation last year, I doubt it is any more. A $75K renovation would take 250 months, or 20.8 years to be paid by monthly fee of $300, assuming interest is not included. But that is money already collected in its current condition. Some art and trash bins are not going to double the rent, which then would be a 20.8 year payback. Maybe the renovations would generate another $50-100 per/month worth of revenue. Maybe. But the city is not making the investment, the foundation is.

    Is the city so pathetic that it wants so bad the extra $50/month revenue at the cost of someone’s livelihood? An extra $600-1200/year for all of this effort? How much did the report cost from Profitable Food Facilities Worldwide? Almost certainly no less than $30-50K. If the city has so much time to worry so much about this shack then clearly a reduction in costs is in order; the city is way over staffed. That would save a lot more than $1200/year wishful-thinking increase in revenue.

    Furthermore, if the city is so confused to think they should run it, and run it better generating more net revenue, then I’m willing to bet it all that they are deeply confused.

    The appearance, for sure, is that the city is over staffed and trying to justify itself by purchasing 50K reports to gain trivial additions to revenue that have no payback.

    The Foundation may be trying to help the community, but it may not be aware of the consequences of some of its choices that affect others. I wouldn’t be surprised if Genszler puts in 60 hr weeks and makes a net less than $75K/yr; less than the amount of money the Foundation plans for renovation; which looks to put her out-of-a job.

    It sounds like the Foundation’s good deed is being usurped by some bureaucrats at the city.
    The city is probably gonna charge a lot for the permits, cause unneeded delays and costs to the renovation, and try to get more people hired by the city to support it. It just doesn’t past the smell test.

  • Is this the same city that just last year fenced off the pier and hired arm guards?

  • George Thomas Gregory Reply

    the attack on small business is acute and real in san-c take a look at the ladder laws or the Miramar theater development with no parking ,,,while the rest of us cant develop our homes or property because of parking requirement’s ,, A true double standard only the rich get richer

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