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Sunday, Oct 1, 2023

A New Look In Old Town

After losing a hard-fought battle to hang on to the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park concession, Diane Powers looked anything but wounded as she worked to prepare for Bazaar del Mundo’s grand reopening celebration in its new quarters around the corner on Taylor Street.

Between the new shops and Casa de Pico , one of the four restaurants she operated in the 2.5-acre park concession , which is scheduled to reopen in mid-August in La Mesa’s Grossmont Center, Powers says she’s putting in a 60-hour workweek.

“Being bitter doesn’t get you anywhere; you have to move on,” Powers said, giving a tour of the shops that now occupy about 10,000 square feet in a two-story former office building she owns in Old Town next door to her Casa Guadalajara restaurant. One of the 10 shops also occupies some leased space on the ground floor in a neighboring building.

The three-day reopening event from July 29-31, which was to feature traditional Hispanic folk dancers and mariachi and marimba bands, would be like old home week for those who patronized Bazaar del Mundo at the park concession.

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“Color your world with exotic finds that make a bold statement,” read the jumbo-sized postcard announcing the gala. “Discover worldly folk art, fashion, gifts, artisan’s jewelry, accessories and home d & #233;cor all with the Bazaar del Mundo flair.”

The amount of goods, some new and some that came from Bazaar del Mundo when it occupied 16 shops at the state park concession, was pared down. But the array is just as unique and colorful as before.

Janet Orr, an insurance executive who lives in Mission Valley, said the new stores provide a better showcase for the merchandise.

“I think the shops are prettier than they were before,” Orr said.

She Does It Her Way

Powers, who did her own interior design, said she spent about $1 million to renovate, tear down walls, paint, install wooden beams, new flooring, staircases, wrought-iron railings, archways and alcoves for the shops. Construction began in October.

“It’s a work in progress, just like Bazaar del Mundo was when I first opened it,” she said, pointing to a plywood mock-up of an archway at the far end of the courtyard between the rows of shops. “We wanted to see how it would look before we build it.”

A stucco archway off the parking lot that separates the shops from Casa Guadalajara forms the entryway to the shops.

Wrought-iron tables and chairs under brightly colored umbrellas in the patio are reminiscent of the dining area that served Bazaar del Mundo when it was in the park.

“If people want to bring their to-go orders over from Casa Guadalajara and sit here in the patio by the shops, they can do that,” Powers said.

After 34 years of operating the park concession, Powers officially handed over the keys on May 31. Her new shops were up and running the second week in June.

She declined to say what she spent on legal fees to wage the appeals that kept her in business at the concession for 18 months after the state Parks Department declared New York-based Delaware North Cos. the winning bidder for the lease. But she did allow that the sum was more than what it cost to convert her office building into shops.

“We could have built yet another Bazaar del Mundo for what we spent to save the original,” Powers said, adding that her effort to retain the concession wasn’t just a business decision. It was in response to Bazaar del Mundo’s loyal following of locals and tourists.

Having generated revenues of some $27 million in 2003, Bazaar del Mundo was the state’s most lucrative park concession. According to the San Diego Business Journal’s 2005 Book of Lists, Bazaar del Mundo reported attendance of 1.6 million in 2003.

After moving about a block away from the park concession, Powers doesn’t see her operation as being in competition with Delaware North’s stores and restaurants in what is now called Plaza del Pasado.

“I don’t see us as competing with them,” Powers said. “We are going in different directions with different images.”

Delaware North, which promised the state $500,000 more in rent and $3.7 million more in improvements than Bazaar del Mundo, focuses its three restaurants and 11 shops on replicating the cuisine and trade of the area during the 1800s.

Making It New Again

Powers said she has spent about $1.5 million for the build-out of 10,000 square feet of space in Grossmont Center that will house Casa de Pico. The restaurant will have seating for 400.

Like the shops, much of the furniture, fixtures and artwork that was in her restaurants before have been moved to Casa de Pico.

“I took a lot of beautiful furniture from the restaurants, then refinished, reupholstered and renovated it for reuse,” Powers said.

There is still more that she keeps in storage for future use.

She expects to open a second Casa de Pico and to reopen Casa de Bandini , another of the restaurants originally operated in Old Town state park , at the circa-1930s Old Police Headquarters adjacent to Downtown’s Seaport Village.

Powers was tapped be the anchor tenant by Carlsbad-based GMS Realty Inc., which is a partner and manager of Seaport Village, and was selected by the San Diego Unified Port District to renovate and restore the Old Police Headquarters.

The project is undergoing permitting, but Powers expects it will be open in late 2006 or early 2007.

If all goes as planned, she will operate 16 new stores, two restaurants and a caf & #233; in about 45,000 square feet of space.

Adding the amount of space in the stores and restaurants that are planned for the Old Police Headquarters to that of her current operation, Powers could wind up with one that is about twice the size of the original Bazaar del Mundo, which occupied 33,000 square feet in the state park concession.


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