Boyle Heights tiendita corner store

Boyle Heights - There’s a sort of Wild West ethic to the little corner stores here. Partly, it's that each place can bring its own personal flare. Partly also, it's that some of these places are not allowed to be where they are, under current zoning rules.

But there they are anyway - and people rely on them. Now, there's an effort to make sure they remain part of the Boyle Heights landscape even as it plans for future growth.

“This was something we heard from the community that they appreciated,” said Haydee Urita-Lopez, principal city planner for Los Angeles.

She has been listening to members of the community as she works on the latest update to the Boyle Heights Community Plan. One focus of that update: Taking into account the reality and the necessity of those little stores or tienditas.

“We found them spread out over the neighborhood,” Urita-Lopez said about the 25-plus tienditas throughout Boyle Heights, “inter-stitched between residences, sometimes in the middle of the block.”

In a neighborhood with only around four major grocery stores, neighbors depend on the little stores, where they can just pick up a few necessary items - soap, paper towels, a tomato - without driving down to one of the chain markets and waiting in line.

Part of the community plan update is simply to make it more legal to set up stores like this. The City would establish new “RN2” and “RN3” districts, so limited non-residential uses can be introduced into residential neighborhoods, according to a City Planning web site.

After all, some of stores may be older than a lot of the zoning codes.

“Some of these were built in the late 1800s, early 1900s,” Urita-Lopez said. “They’ve always existed within residential uses.”

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At the same time, the new community plan would ensure that the tienditas will stay. They could be no larger than 1,500 square feet, hours of operation would be limited, and new stores could only be on a corner property, City Planning’s web site said.

“We don’t want to see a four-story business in the middle of a residential area,” Urita-Lopez said.

A little store that gets too big? “That defeats the purpose,” she said.

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