Thursday, October 27, 2016

Highland Park’s Swap Mall vendors prepare for their final sale



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.

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  1. longtimeresident

    That’s called “progress” folks. Getting rid of asbestos. Re-enforcing the structure. Hopefully get rid of that terrible spray painted signage out front. Maybe Mrs Chang can upgrade her store and be even more successful. A rising tide lifts all boats.

    Maybe that one guy might complain who bought 99 cent socks there his whole life. But what he should really complain about is the fact that he was breathing in asbestos that whole time in a building that had been completely neglected for the past 30 years.

    • Right on! Excited to see how Fig grows and changes. Good for the community!

      • Yet another ANTI-GENTRIFICATION message brought to you by… the eastsider.

        “It feels like rich people are just kicking us out”

        Might as well say what you really mean- It feels like white people are kicking us out.

  2. This is really disgusting. If you want to learn more about this, read Part V. Flipping the Neighborhood.


    You’ll see a picture of the “lady” behind this with a “kiss my ass” look on her face. Flipping the Neighborhood is right. The Big Bird.

    What a nauseating scene this has become. I hope these people go bankrupt.

  3. Tony the Main Spoon

    Last week I purchased a pair of Dickie pants for work and spoke with Ms. Chang in detail about the change of ownership. She expressed her disappointment about being hurried out and being made to pay rent for May without an option. These were her words. Of course its sad to see the long time vendors go. Ms. Chang has made available some of the sweetest Levi 501s over the years. I encourage folks to check out her spot for some good deals. She also expressed how supportive her regular shoppers and HLP residence have been as they have been providing her with information to settle in other areas of the city. The old man who sells socks and 3 AAA t-shirts at the right corner entrance the way has been employing residence for years. What an affable guy, he has such a good nature. They will be missed and good luck to them.

    • This is the type of dishonest parasite behind this….”I feel bad”…LOL….sure you do. Spare me the crocodile tears.

      The ‘Retenanter’

      “See this swap meet here?” asked Nicole Deflorian, pointing at an old brick building with a sign – HighlandSwapMall.Com – neatly spray-painted over the door. It’s a few doors down from Frank’s now-shuttered store.

      Nicole Deflorian is a commercial real estate agent. (Photo credit: Rafael Cardenas)

      She looked through the Swap Mall’s windows at a hodgepodge of kiosks selling underwear, cell phones, cheap jewelry. “I don’t know how they are still around and staying in business,” she said.

      Nicole is a commercial real estate agent with Clint Lukens Realty and one of the many commercial agents who has marked Highland Park as her new territory in the last several months. She now spends considerable time in this neighborhood, staking out old buildings like the Swap Mall and old stores like Frank’s.

      “This could be broken up into two or three cute boutiques,” she said, sizing up the Swap Mall building. “That’s probably going to happen soon.”

      One of Nicole’s specialties is something called “retenanting.” Maybe you’ve never heard this word, but in commercial real estate it is a term of art, an actual job: find commercial buildings with low-rent tenants occupying storefronts, ideally on month-to-month leases, then “kick them out, retenant the property with new tenants at market rate,” Nicole explained.

      Nicole admits this can sound predatory. “I do feel bad,” she said. “But it is a business. And when these people are paying under-market rents, and we have a client that owns the property, we have to look out for our client’s best interest.”

      I especially like her lies….

      “What I typically do is I go in, I see a store that’s like an old appliance store that’s not going to last for another year or so,” she explained. “So I try to figure out how to get in touch with the owner – like say that I got hit in the back parking lot and I need to call insurance, so I need the property owner’s information.”

      It’s a trick Nicole learned from another commercial real estate agent years ago, she said. “Sometimes you have to get creative and kind of do whatever it takes get the information.”

      • Except she didn’t buy or sell this building. Troll.

      • Tony the Main Spoon


      • Tony the Main Spoon


      • Tony the Main Spoon

        The ladies love the Levi 501 swag. I was at the Cafe de Leche one day. Ran in to the Lady who goes my Rome who sells sandwiches at Johnny’s Bar and she gave me the nicest complement on my discontinued light grey 501’s. I wore those every Saturday. Ms Chang told me they would last up to 3 years in great condition if I dry cleaned them. So I did.

        There is a great place called Royal Cleaners on Echo Park Ave that provides the best service. Local Hollywood types get their cleaning done there. You can tell my the signed head shots of the likes of Nickelodeon and Dancing With the Stars fame Zandeja (I think that’s how her name is spelled). The business is family. Everyone who enters the premises is greeted with a hearty “Hello,.” Well, I had taken three pairs of 501s and left them there a few days too long because there was an electrical fire that caused Royal Cleaners to burn down. Along with my Levis. I digress.

        My point is, I claimed my 501s with the cleaner’s fire insurance and was able to go back to the HLP Swap Meet and get a few brand new pairs. Ms. Chang was always there. Even before the haters nowadays can go on the internet and crumb on the likes of the business like they are Cookie Monster. Yes, “changes are better”- duh! But for the last 25 years, as Ms Chang told me, she was in business and she pleased many people with her selection of duds. I will buy my pants somewhere else closer to my home in EP but I loved to swing by MY HLP Swap Malll to check out the new selection of threads before heading to catch a flick the the HLP Theatres. No “crocodile tears” buddy. We long timers who are still young in age have the memories. HLP Swamp Mall forever! In our hearts, along with the asbestos. BTW, thankfully no one was hurt with the Royal Cleaners fire and they are back in business today.

        Jim. Meet me at Johnny’ Bar tonight. 7:30 sharp. I’ll buy you a beer and then I want you to tell me how long you have to live. Surely you are dying in the inside. See. No matter what. Your trolling is just a cry for belonging. And you know, as well all know, you dont really have a voice or a name in NELA. Just an old man writing empty prose about empty buildings, that you wont see a dime for renting. Nobody in that business would share the crap you just wrote. Stupid, poor as probably doesn’t know his 501s to his 504. Sucker.

  4. These are changes for the better.

    • Tony the Main Spoon

      Like we haven’t head that before . . .

      • Because an underused borderline derelict space full of asbestos with the ugliest marquee in all of NELA is good for the community how?

        • 30 years of deferred maintenance = keepin’ Highland Park real!

          “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.”

          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.

        • Tony the Main Spoon

          Yea, yea, the needle on the record is repeating.

  5. I am just thankful many of my neighbors (and us too) bought in HP years ago. We live on a street with teachers, gardeners, electricians, movie industry folks, a guy who works at a body shop, and more. They all own their homes. They aren’t going anywhere. We all get along and we all love our neighborhood. It IS sad when you see long time tenants having to leave, but I can’t stress it enough in this country…..get that down payment from ANYWHERE and buy a place. This is how two Latino gardeners can continue to live in a beautiful, old craftsman on a street with views and they will not be displaced as the neighborhood changes. Their mortgage is way cheaper than a tiny one bedroom costs now here in HP. I understand not everyone can do this and I do feel for folks being displaced, but it’s tough out there. Do whatever you can to own a tiny piece of this town before none of us can afford to live here anymore. Urban cores are changing FAST.

  6. All I am seeing the article are two things:

    (1) $0.33 per square foot in rent (damn that is cheap, I’ve been paying $1.25+ since 2008)

    (2) $3.6 million is $36,000 in property tax. The owner that just sold the place was paying a tax rate from 1981. If all the commercial property on Figueroa changes hands at 2015 market rates we are going to be a major tax contributor in the city pretty soon. From a local government perspective, this is great news since this happened without any handouts or tax incentives or other financial chicanery. Just look at LA Live’s tax payer financed construction and operation to see what happens when government and the big boys get together.

    For those worried about the pace of change: don’t worry! Gil Cedillo is totally inept at planning. He will keep this area as close to shambles as possible so he can “save” us with Jazz Festivals and one day trash clean ups.

    • Haha! I do hope that the tax revenue comes in… though the building is a contributing structure to the hpoz so there’s potential for a Mills Act tax reduction, which could have been part of the investor’s calculation… to get it they’d have to restore the building. Regardless, fingers crossed that the exterior gets restored, it’s really an amazing building, it could be one of the nicest on Figueroa.

  7. What HAS Cedillo done? He is so absent and so is all of his office. The jazz festival was fun……and that’s about all I can say.

  8. Jenny Chang is the sweetest lady. My son really loves her he’s gonna be really sad to hear about this. She always greets everyone with a smile and we moved away, my son went back after 2 years and she asked about us all. God bless her. I pray as this for closes a better one opens for her. I really hope we can make it one more time before it closes.

  9. Lloyd do work. Honestly the owners have always been slum lords. Since they have purchased the building they have sent all rents back and I doubt if they even pay to relocate . Profit. As long they dont touch the Legion …just hate the overall shitty attitude from of these hippsters. No respect. Love the new life and business that has been brought in..

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