ECHO PARK – The last day of business at El Batey No. 2 found the small neighborhood market with only some random bags of chips and snacks on the shelves and a small supply of beer in the cooler. Evelia, the 74-year-old woman who has tended the family owned business since it opened 48 years ago, has spent most of the day saying “goodbye” and “adios” to customers, some of whom returned to the neighborhood to wish her well. After the store’s black metal gates are slammed shut tonight, El Batey will never reopen.
The store, which has anchored the corner of Echo Park and Delta Avenues at the bottom of a brick apartment building, was forced to close after the new building owners wanted a steep rent increase.
From behind the counter, Evelia has greeted generations of customers and watched as the neighborhood went from a gang stronghold to a symbol of gentrification, where rising rents and property values have eroded the store’s once large base of Latino immigrant customers. Whites and other non-Latinos have also patronized El Batey but the store continued to struggle. The store might have been dark and dusty at times, but Evelia served as a welcoming presence. She turned her regular customers into friends, jotting down their birth dates in the store’s ledger and delivering home cooked meals to those who were housebound.
Evelia, who did not want her last name published, said she and her family tried to work out a new deal with the landlord that would have allowed the store to remain open or at least give it more time to to sell off inventory and wrap up her affairs. But the final terms did not make it worth staying, said Evelia, who lives a short walk from the store. “It’s better to go now.”
* Update on June 6: The owners of the building, M West Holdings, issues a statement regarding the closure of El Batey,
M West Holdings regrettably announced that local grocery, El Batey, will be leaving their Echo Park location on June 6th, 2014. M West Holdings has been working closely since acquiring the property in December, with the owners of El Batey, the Pack family, to find a solution for the unique issues facing the business and the changing nature of the community, but they were unable to reach an agreement. Moving forward, the Pack family has decided to close their business during the time period of the extended lease. M West will be working with the owners to facilitate a smooth transition.
“We regret the loss of this historic local business, especially this great market,” stated John Tronson, Principal at Avison Young, the representative of M West Holdings. “We honor the Pack family for their long-standing contribution and dedication to the Echo Park community. It is M West’s goal to include community focused, local vendors in the building’s future retail mix, wherever possible.”
In their six months of ownership, M West Holdings has already upgraded the property, which sat neglected for many years. They have added new front doors, a fresh coat of paint on the exterior, new lights on the façade, as well as all new sanitary lines and copper water supply throughout the building. They also renovated the lobby and the manager’s office and made long needed roofing and façade repairs.