San Diego Business Journal

Sony North America, the San Diego-based division of the Japanese electronics giant, is pulling the plug on the last of its retail stores that the company once envisioned as the home-electronics version of those wildly popular Apple stores.

The Sony stores at Westfield UTC and Fashion Valley mall in Mission Valley — both of which were opened or overhauled less than two years ago — are among 10 nationwide that Sony still has running, and most are expected to close before the year is out. Sony shuttered 20 U.S. stores last year, and officials recently said the company is shifting its retail strategy more toward smaller “store within a store” showcases at places like Best Buy.

Sony’s electronics division has long been trying to recapture the buzz and sales of its 1980s-era Walkman days, as numerous global competitors have successfully encroached on its TV, audio and other gadget businesses.

In early 2013, Sony reopened its 4,500-square-foot Fashion Valley store following an extensive remodeling (one of just three in the nation at that time) under a new format concept. It featured an “unobstructed view” of a world where Sony music artists could be heard on the company’s latest high-tech audio gear, and Sony Pictures movies played on its large new 4K ultra-high-def TVs.

Later that year, it opened a smaller “boutique” version at University Towne Center.

“We wanted to make our stores more intimate and warm and engaging,” Sony Senior Vice President Brian Sheehan told the San Diego Business Journal in May 2013. “We wanted to make it very interactive, so that people as they move through the store will want to pick things up and try them out.”

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Local Restaurant Brands Continue to Expand: Cohn Restaurant Group’s The Prado at Balboa Park is the latest San Diego brand to get a new “mini” version geared to time-strapped travelers at San Diego International Airport.

Airport officials said The Prado at the Airport recently opened post-security in Terminal 2 East. The 1,900-square-foot restaurant is operated by Virginia-based airport concessionaire SSP America, which now oversees 14 restaurants at San Diego International and dozens more at other U.S. airports.

The Prado has been a mainstay at Balboa Park for the past 15 years and is among more than 20 restaurants operated throughout the county by Cohn Restaurant Group. The company is led by David and Lesley Cohn and is headquartered in Old Town.

Airport operators over the past two years have been remodeling dining areas and shifting the retail and restaurant roster to feature more brands specific to San Diego County. The selection of concessions has grown from 55 to 84 and now includes licensed and franchised versions of popular local names including Jack in the Box, Stone Brewing Co. and Phil’s BBQ.

Speaking of Phil’s, that San Diego company is set to open its fourth free-standing restaurant before year’s end in a space that previously housed the Elephant Bar in Rancho Bernardo. Remodeling is set to begin in April, and operators said the 7,720-square-foot venue will include a full bar, oversized TVs and a selection of local craft beers.

“We have searched high and low for a spot convenient to Rancho Bernardo, Poway, Mira Mesa and 4S Ranch,” said owner Phil Pace in a statement. “We are confident we have found a perfect fit.”

According to CoStar Group, the building at 17051 West Bernardo Drive in Rancho Bernardo was recently purchased for $3.5 million by 4030 Goldfinch Investments LLC of San Diego, a limited liability company that includes Pace.

Phil’s expects to hire 75 at the new location and will begin accepting applications in September, officials said. The company also has free-standing locations in Point Loma, San Marcos and Santee, with two smaller outposts at Petco Park and one at the airport.

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More Eateries and Drinkeries Arriving: Locally based hospitality management and investment firm ELE Collective, led by restaurateur John Pani, has announced one of the new concepts set for two leased sites it acquired earlier this year on Park Boulevard in University Heights – the former longtime homes of the recently closed Bourbon Street and Lei Lounge bars.

Set to arrive in May is Park & Rec, a cocktail venue being operated by Pani in the former Bourbon Street space, in collaboration with local beverage consulting firm Revelry Cocktail Co., led by veteran barkeeps Trevor Easter and Anthony Schmidt. Operators said the venue will have an open-air courtyard with games like ping pong and shuffleboard. Pani is considering several potential concepts for the adjoining spot that formerly housed Lei Lounge.

In downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, a team led by CEO Sam King and Executive Chef Damon Gordon recently debuted Water Grill in the space at 615 J St. where The Palm restaurant previously operated. The upscale fresh-seafood restaurant occupies a two-story, 11,000-square-foot space that includes a private dining room known as “The Gallery.”

In Hillcrest, operators said farm-driven restaurant Local Habit is undergoing a major renovation and is set to reopen March 28 with a new interior and New Orleans-style “Cali-Creole” menu. Consulting chef Nick Brune recently sold the restaurant at 3827 Fifth Ave. for an undisclosed price to brothers Ignacio, Javier, Guillermo and Antonio Fragoso.

Send commercial real estate and development news of general local interest to Lou Hirsh via email at lhirsh@sdbj.com. He can be reached at 858-277-8904.