By AMANDA SCHALLERTFrom corner groceries in Echo Park to hair salons in Silver Lake, many small business owners have either moved out, closed down or paid up as rents have spiked. Since the city’s rent control laws don’t apply to commercial space, business tenants without a lease are at the mercy of landlords, who can raise the rent as much as they want to take advantage of gentrifying shopping and commercial strips.
“I don’t know what you can do for the independent retailer,” said Living Room owner Steve Melendrez, who plans to move his Silver Lake furniture store to Venice before his rent jumps to an estimated $16,000 a month.
The Eastsider spoke to some business owners who recently had to relocate to find out they handled their moves:
Dust MuffinIn April, Kerry Vitiello, Diana Jacobs and James Clark moved their gift dispensary and home decor shop several blocks down Sunset Boulevard, claiming the spot of another small business – Sumi’s – that had just moved from Silver Lake to Los Feliz.
They had to move after their building switched ownership months before, and their space was let to the higher-end French clothing line A.P.C. Vitiello saw the change coming and, as she searched for any vacancies in the area, she tried to keep in mind her would-be neighbors at each location.
“No one’s going to go to a check cashing place next door and spend the money that they didn’t already have on a $30 candle (at your store),” she said.
For Vitiello, having a moving sale and staying calm helped her get through the process, especially when the shop had to stay closed for a month – something she would never recommend to anyone else.
She concentrated on the positives that come with a new start. The renovation took thousands of dollars and eight samples of mint green paint before she settled on “mother nature,” “verde” and a third color she can’t remember.
“It’s kind of a cleansing when you move, going through all your stuff,” she said. “You learn what you wanted and what you didn’t.”
Flounce VintageThe Flounce Vintage “microbusiness” stayed in Echo Park for 12 years until owner Lisa Gerstein reopened a few months ago on Virgil Avenue in East Hollywood. Now, Gerstein’s collection of vintage dresses, apparel and accessories hangs in several racks on silky plush hangers in a store that used to sell kids’ toys.
“It’s become very clear to me that you only have control over your business if you own the building,” Gerstein said.
Gerstein managed to transfer her entire shop in three days to the new location. At the time, she debated whether she should even re-open. She thought about moving to Vermont and living with a good friend or selling all her items online.
“It’s hard moving out of a place that you felt so connected to, which is weird because I don’t even live in Echo Park,” she said.
She said she’s learned the importance of “knowing your demographic” when choosing a new place and of understanding your neighborhood. The latter in particular pushed her to start searching for store vacancies early on when she sensed that commercial real estate prices were going to spike.
“The writing on the wall is that rent is going to go up,” Gerstein said.While some business owners prefer short-term leases to give them flexibility, negotiating a long-term lease protects owners from sudden or unexpected rent hikes, said David Bramante of BRE Investment, a real-estate sales and property-management group.
“Unless you have a long-term lease or a good relationship with the (building’s) owner, it’s very hard to stay (in your shop,)” he said.
Amanda Schallert is a fourth-year UCLA student and the news editor at the Daily Bruin.