OpEd: The Dead Business Corners of WeHo

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My first store opened at 8836 Santa Monica Blvd, where Bottega Louie now stands. On the corner was a new restaurant called Tacos, Tacos, which later became Java Detour, and then Pump Restaurant.

Across the street, the Los Angeles Sporting Club occupied the corner where Salt and Straw currently exists. The north side of Santa Monica was lined with small boutiques like All-American Boy, Transport, NY Jock, the Greenery (diner), and Marvin’s Pharmacy, a mom and pop pharmacy that cared for many as family during the AIDS crisis. Emerson locksmith was across the street, and Hamburger Haven was on the corner of Robertson and Santa Monica. One block away, on La Peer and Santa Monica, was the International Male flagship. The street opened in the morning for breakfast and lunch and then for nightlife. The little village of West Hollywood was filled with community-serving businesses. It was a gay ghetto; they called it Boystown, but all were welcome.

When you go to any mall, the anchor stores draw the traffic – Macy’s or Nordstrom, Penney’s, and more. In between those anchor stores, small businesses thrive.

When we talk about a city, the anchors are the corner locations, premium spots. Think Gay Starbucks on the corner of Westbourne and Santa Monica, think Pump on the corner of Robertson and Santa Monica. But WeHo is filled with dead corners.

From the moment you enter West Hollywood’s borders going eastward on Santa Monica, we hit the Melrose Triangle, one gigantic hole in the ground with no real way out. It’s not getting built. The permits are active, but the project is dead. We are ten years away. Gone is the Shoreline Moderne that residents fought to keep and housed many of Hollywood’s oldest businesses and finest history.

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The next major intersection is at the corners of Robertson and Santa Monica and La Peer, both under construction. Gone are Hamburger Haven and Bossa Nova. And just south of the factory is Anawalt Lumber. That property is in escrow, and soon we can kiss that goodbye too.

The next major intersection is San Vicente and Santa Monica. US Bank announced their departure, Rounderbum left, and a Mistr is yet to open. And one block away is the other anchor of the Rainbow District, at the corner of Larrabee, where Flaming Saddles used to be, empty since 2020. On the corner of Palm and Santa Monica, Optometrix is gone, and one day Kale Me Crazy will open.

Corner after corner is gone. Skip to the next block at Hancock, and there is the old Coffee Bean, a community staple of yesteryear, and the next block from that is the corner of Westmount and Santa Monica, where 24 Hour Fitness will one day become John Reed.

Right across the street at the corner of Westbourne and Santa Monica is the old Gay Starbucks corner. Both of our community coffee shops closed. Cousins Lobster next door, Sprouts Market recently did the toot-a-loo, and we haven’t even gotten to La Cienega.

At the major intersection of La Cienega and Santa Monica, Leo Flowers empty for 5 years and old-timer Raffi Jewelers sayonara; the whole center is empty. Bikes and Hikes will soon need to move to make way for a recently approved project.

Keep on truckin’ east to Kings Road corner, where there was an Aaron Brother. Flores and Santa Monica housed Basix. The Conservatory was on the next corner of Sweetzer and Santa Monica. All gone.

Jetset to Crescent Heights, and you will find the closed Bank of America on the corner of Santa Monica and Crescent Heights. The southwest corner had a shopping center, but they paved paradise and did not put in a parking lot.

The corner of Laurel and Santa Monica houses two empty spots, including the beloved French Marketplace, empty for years and years. Whew, I’m tired, and we haven’t even made it to Fairfax.

At the corner of Fairfax and Santa Monica, there is another shuttered Starbucks. Opposite the westbound corner is the shuttered Birdies no more. There used to be a community-serving coffee house. The first time I met Mayor Shyne was at that corner for coffee.

Take a ride up to Sunset for more of the same. Entering from the east is the old Hornburg Jaguar, now a big empty corner. Two blocks away is what was Hustler, and the next corner is the old Aahs. To the east end of West Hollywood’s famed Sunset Strip and the empty Standard Hotel.

A trip down the Melrose part of West Hollywood and the Design District shows lots of construction, a year of blight. A stroll down the WeHo part of Beverly shows the shuttered Lemonade and the other long-gone Coffee Bean.

West Hollywood is in a depression, and there is no help in sight. The City Council looks at rising revenues the way Republicans look at big business. This July, the minimum wage will go to $19.08 per hour, the highest in the nation. State Law is $15.50, as of Jan 1, 2023. We are the one of only a few cities that adds CPI increases to the minimum wage. The provisions of the wage ordinance forces employees to take vacations, (they cant be paid out for the time) and employers offer up to a month of vacation and a month of sick time paid. Businesses are leaving, and there are lots of “For Lease” signs. Many of the businesses that are opening were in stride before the new policies took place. Others are just leaving and not renewing leases, such as Subway, Chop Stop, and other small guys.

The City Council understands the ramifications of social issues but not business issues. Their wheelhouse is gender studies and focused on identity. Well, the identity of West Hollywood is lost and morphing into Los Angeles. I wish they would focus on WeHo.

Owners understand fixed costs like rents. Labor costs are variable costs. Opening does not guarantee success. Wages are the greatest expense of any business expense, and West Hollywood has the highest wages in the nation. Taxes are also a great expense, with West Hollywood having the highest sales tax in the nation. The City Council has always rationalized their decisions that “out of towners” are paying those taxes, but they scared away residents and entrepreneurs.

Some landlords have not received rents in years. The story of commercial credit is ruffling the markets around the globe, and West Hollywood is not immune.

But don’t let the City Council tell you how good business is in West Hollywood. The big hotels, cannabis, and alcohol sales may drive tax revenues, but the progressive Democrats are sounding more like Republicans every day with policies that favor large corporations and leave the mom and pops small businesses empty on almost every corner.

 

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[…] with 33 crimes including 8 assaults and 7 drug possession and under-the-influence charges. The Fairfax/SMB corner has been afflicted with significant urban […]

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[…] blighted northwest corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Fairfax in West Hollywood might soon start to sizzle […]

Harambe's Vengeful Ghost
Harambe's Vengeful Ghost
8 months ago

I didn’t vote for this, but a bunch of y’all did, and don’t understand that you continue the problem by voting for worse versions of the same people.

JRBirdsong
JRBirdsong
9 months ago

Unfortuantely too many people fell in Love with services like Amazon and stopped supporting the small businesses in WeHo. AND of course along comes Mr. COVID which did not help matters. WeHo has definitely lost its ‘gay mecca village’ feel. Rents skyrocketed and only Yuppies with multiple incomes can afford now. City Council has lost it’s way and have bowed to the wishes of BIG MONEY. Not realizing or CARING or remembering WHY WeHo was founded in 1984. LOTS of gay folks have moved to other parts of LA.

Parker
Parker
9 months ago

I’ve lived in WeHo since 96. This is absolutely the worst I have seen… could be worse than 2008 financial crisis. At least we had a Starbucks! Every single major brand has left WeHo. It’s the crime, high wages, high taxes and a City Council that needs to be VOTED OUT!! They work for everyone expect the actual residents! This is our city- let’s take it back! GET RID OF WEHO CITY COUNCIL.

True...
True...
9 months ago
Reply to  Parker

I have been a resident since 1978 (actually before WeHo was established in 1984) and have seen the city devolve into just this side of chaos.It is very disconcerting and alarming.

Bill
Bill
9 months ago

I have a wonderful idea for opening s unique business serving the LGBTQ community. There is no way on earth that I would do this anywhere within the city limits of West Hollywood. The landlords there are insane and the City Council has lost control of their minds. North Hollywood and Northeast Los Angeles are looking better and better all the time. In fact, the entire west side can shove it.

Steve Too
Steve Too
9 months ago

Let’s be honest. Retail along Santa Monica Blvd has been dying for years – long before the wage ordinance. Is that a hindrance, most likely, but it’s not the only cause. Kudos to Larry for keeping up the good fight. The city needs to implement an empty lot tax or an inactive building fee. The rush to tear existing buildings down before financing and approvals for a replacement needs to be rethought. Santa Monica seems to get this right – why can’t West Hollywood ? Example – the Vons on Lincoln closed in early February (the building was torn down… Read more »

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[…] highlighted the many shuttered business corners in West Hollywood in this […]

UCSBGRAD
UCSBGRAD
9 months ago

Rent in West Hollywood is just a big of problem as wages. Look at the landlord for Pump that want’s a million dollars a year for that small space., or empty spaces like the former location of Flaming Saddles where the landlord would rather let the building sit empty than charge a reasonable rent. This is the norm in this city and it makes it almost impossible to afford to start a business when you have fixed costs that high. It would be nice to see the landlords in West Hollywood willing to invest a little in these business by… Read more »

angry gay pope
9 months ago
Reply to  UCSBGRAD

I agree! How would I ever move my PC fixing biz out of my apt. into a storefront w/rents like that? And I would have to hire an employee to run the place when I’m on a call. Impossible!

Davedi
Davedi
9 months ago

Excellent article. Both sad and eye opening.

Rodrigo
Rodrigo
9 months ago

I’ve lived in WeHo for 25 years (record for a straight guy??) and it’s the worst I’ve seen it – record crime, empty storefronts, unchecked commercial development, out-of-touch city council and, probably the most unfortunate, rapidly dwindling sense of community. Very sad for such a wonderful little city.

Holly Weed
Holly Weed
9 months ago
Reply to  Rodrigo

Weho has a building code department… that is pro business and anti-tenants… 20 years ago, City staff were also residents. Now they are outsiders who hate long term residents. it’s a horrid situation. forget the rent stabilization ordinance… it’s a figment of our imagination. the City does very little to protect it now…

Toms
Toms
9 months ago

The city raised this wage before business could begin to recuperate from Covid19 lockdowns. It’s a disaster for the people.
But the clowns are in office putting on their big fake red nose.

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