Cinépolis. It is the fourth-largest movie theater chain in the world, and as it expands into the United States, it opened its fifth theater in Rancho Santa Margarita.
The Mexico-based chain dumped more than $7 million into renovation, creating a venue that had more in common with a high-end hotel than its predecessor, the Edwards Cinemas 6.
The luxury theater—with tickets upwards of $20—opened Dec. 14, the day after its grand opening, with "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," and did boffo box office out of the gate.
It was part of a year in business that had some vibrant new businesses coming to town, and others moving to different locations. Although a familiar RSM haunt left the city limits, it was not the kind of year for politicians to claim a poor business climate.
But Cinepolis, which hired about 90 employees, wasn't the only big name to open for business in Rancho Santa Margarita. Walmart Neighborhood Market opened over the summer, giving residents another choice besides Ralphs, Albertsons and Pavilions.
The store opened amid plenty of pomp on Aug. 8 with 65 new employees, many of them local residents, and some of its produce grown locally. It was Walmart's second grocery store opening in California—the first opened in Huntington Beach on July 27—as the giant company expands its brand. It moved into the storefront that used to be Circuit City back when electronics stores dotted the landscape.
RSM still doesn't have a big box store—maybe apart from Sears Appliance Showroom—but Cinepolis and Walmart are a couple of big hitters in the neighborhood.
So, too, is Sherwin-Williams Paints, which staged one of the most ambitious grand openings in the city with a barbecue, games, raffles and an opportunity to putt for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The Rancho Santa Margarita location is the store's 3,500th, and moved into the space occupied by Dana Party Supplies, which relocated to the Empresa Center near Daily's Sports Grill.
But there were smaller openings that, on the heels of 2011, gave the impression that if the lease is right, RSM is the place to be.
Residents didn't just get a replacement movie theater, they also got a replacement book store. Borders disappeared—like most bookstores—but was replaced by Crown Books. Crown is a bargain operation these days, but there's plenty inside to like. It opened on April 3, about eight months after Borders closed the page on RSM's store as part of its bankruptcy.
Planning commissioners in October gave the OK for Cut Fitness to do business locally, specializing in workouts for the entire family. It also gave the green light to L.A. Boxing. Earlier in the year came the opening of Athletes Choice with its specialized training for athletes of every age, among other things. Athletes Choice even has former professional athletes helping with the training.
But if you'd rather eat than train, you were in luck. Making a go of it in a location that has been a loser for years, Bruxie took up residence at the corner of El Paseo and El Portal. For weeks, there was always a line as the newly redesigned restaurant—which replaced O.C. Burger—quickly found an audience with its gourmet waffle sandwiches. Bruxie opened its third county location in RSM on May 22.
For good measure and additional good eats, Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant and Embarcadero California Cuisine also opened in 2012. Mi Casa, located on the opposite end of the Kohl's center from Bruxie, opened two weeks before Bruxie. In that same area, Togo's Great Sandwiches had its grand opening in early January.
For dessert, Menchies Frozen Yogurt opened in September with eyes toward being a part of the community. Last week it was serving up cool treats at the second Run For Ruby presented by Rancho Santa Margarita Honda.
Fantastic Sam's had a grand re-opening in April, but sadly co-owner Nelson Smith died in December.
One business began building in 2012 and its opening is so close residents can taste it. In-N-Out Burger broke ground at its Interchange Plaza location on a corner of Santa Margarita Ford late in the year. It didn't open by the end of the year as it had hoped, but the building is up and the line should be forming at the drive-thru before the end of February.
Like several other businesses, In-N-Out had nothing but praise for the city's role in getting the project done.
But it wasn't all good news. Control Components Inc., which has its world headquarters in RSM, had a number of high-ranking officials convicted of bribery in foreign nations; the charges are from 2009, and the valve company was placed on three years' probation and fined $18.2 million.
Toastmasters, which has had its world HQ in Rancho Santa Margarita since 1990, has had 19 consecutive years of membership growth and celebrated its 88th anniversary in October.
The city's largest employer, Applied Medical, continues to expand and update its campus.
Lotus 7 Yoga & Pilates, which as been in RSM for many years, changed locations and is across the street from Daily's, a storefront away from the Jessie Rees Foundation, which moved into its new location as well. Lotus 7 wasn't alone; Precision Pilates downsized to its new location in the Mercado del Lago.
Maybe the biggest blow to local residents is the loss of a Rancho Santa Margarita institution. Escaping a lease that made it difficult to properly succeed, Ballpark Pizza Team served its last RSM meal in December. An important part of the community for two decades, Ballpark will open later this month at its new location a few minutes away—in Mission Viejo.
It wasn't all good news, but given the state of things elsewhere, it was good enough.