By NATHAN SOLIS
HIGHLAND PARK — The Highland Swap Mall will close its doors over the summer to undergo renovations, forcing many vendors to look for new spaces.
“Twenty two years, seven days a week, no vacations and all of it right here,” said clothing vendor Jenny Chang says pointing to her stall.
The Figueroa Street building, an adjacent liquor store and the 28 single-room occupancy units on the second floor, the Highland Hotel, were sold in January for $3.6 million to a group of investors that includes developer Thomas Majich, who refers to himself as the primary owner. Those renovations include the removal of asbestos, an overhaul of the plumbing, electrical wiring and structural reinforcement. Previous owner owned the property for close to 30 years, but Majich says that few if any repairs were made to the building. “There were decades of deferred maintenance,” says Majich.
On a weekday afternoon the Highland Swap Mall is quiet save for the sound of a baseball game on a radio. A handful of vendors dot the showroom, a jeweler naps behind a counter and a few customers walk the aisles under florescent lights. Chang’s merchandise, men’s shirts, pants, and sweaters are marked down by fifty percent with green stickers. She paces by her stall, not sure what will happen to her business after the swap mall closes in May.
Raymond Rojas, a customer who has been shopping at the swap mall all of his life, finds it hard to believe the place will be closing. “It’s unreal sometimes I can’t even believe how much the neighborhood has changed with my own eyes.”
The sale of the Highland Swap Mall adds to the number of occupancies and renovations on Figueroa Street, including the renovations to Mr. T’s Bowl and several nearby storefronts that changed property owners recently.
Majich says as a developer he is aware of the current change in the neighborhood, of the tension generated by gentrification and new developers. But as a person who bought an old building he’s excited about the potential for the property. Majich, who is based out of Chinatown, said he’s familiar with Highland Park’s history and heritage.
One person who is relieved about the sale is Loyd Kattro, manager at the Highland Hotel, which operates above the swap mall. Kattro, who has been the manager since 2001, says he made many repairs but nothing would stick. Often Kattro paid out of pocket for repairs.
“After so much time, it’s good to know that someone is going to finally give the building some attention,” says Kattro.
A report prepared by Remax Commercial in October 2014 lists the building at 5613 N. Figueroa Street as being built in 1921, with additions in 1951. Rents had been 33 cents a square-foot but the broker estimated that future rents could rise to $1.75 a square foot. which would take the monthly rent for the swap mall from $2,400 to $12,167.
Majich said there are no tenants lined up for the first floor retail space. The Highland Hotel will remain, but during renovations the building will be closed.
Chang and the rest of the vendors were told to continue paying rent on their stalls until the end of May, though Majich says that if there are no damages to the property the vendors may get back their last month.
Chang says of the entire situation, “It feels like the rich people are just kicking us out.”
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.