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The Changing Face of Ocean Park Boulevard

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

August 20 -- Imagine a neighborhood center close enough to walk to, where folks can grab a cup of coffee or find that special gift, while catching up on the local gossip with shop owners and employees who’ve been friends for years.

If you’ve been listening to the urban planners around City Hall lately, it sounds like a dream come true. But for some small businesses and their customers in Sunset Park, it may become a thing of the past.

Rapidly rising rents and limited foot traffic on Ocean Park Boulevard between 16th and 17th streets are causing mom-and-pop stores to reevaluate their plans and, in some cases, shut their doors for good.

Ocean Park Boulevard between 16th and 17th streets. (Photo by Ann K. Williams)

Some see the problem as nearly inevitable in the face of Santa Monica’s spiraling property values.

Corporations pay tens of thousands of dollars a month in rent on the Third Street Promenade, and “then it radiates to the rest of the city,” said Irene Coray who runs Kulturas, a used book store in the area.

Others are a little less philosophical.

“It’s a travesty. Eventually they’re going to put us all out of business. They keep raising rents,” said a business owner from a few blocks north who didn’t want to be identified.

Whatever the cause, change is brewing in Sunset Park, and not necessarily slow change.

It’s hard to miss the yellow “moving” sign outside Artesanias Oaxaca at 1634 Ocean Park Boulevard, an art and curio store that opens up to a brightly colored, sometimes whimsical, sometimes macabre world of spirits, saints, processionals and flowers.

Although his rent’s gone up, the store’s owner, Fernando Cervantes, said that’s not the main reason he’s moving.

After 12 years in Sunset Park, Cervantes is relocating his business to 2919 Pico Boulevard, next to Lares Restaurant, where he hopes to get more foot traffic and some spillover from the restaurant crowd. He says he needs to make more money to support his college-aged children and hopefully buy a house.

Next door, Colby Evett and his wife Yvonne don’t expect to stay in business after next summer. After years of annual rent hikes of $100 per month, their landlord raised the rent from $1,700 a month to $2,500 a month this summer. (see story)

And they expect their rent on their one-of-a-kind model shop to double next year.

That’s when they figure they’ll have to close Evett’s Models at 1636 Ocean Park Boulevard, after 60 years in business at the same location.

“The landlord told us you won’t be able to have a Mom and Pop type business here,” said Evett.

But no one is blaming the landlord. He’s working under the same economic pressures they are, and his rents are still well below market value, said several of his tenants.

“He’s a hell of a nice guy. He’s the cat’s meow as far as I’m concerned,” said Victor Larivee, owner of The Bicycle Shop at 1638 Ocean Park Boulevard. “He helped me when I moved in. He has to go along with the trend.

“It’s economic, it’s that old English capitalism,” Larivee said. “It’s the game we have to play.

Larivee has been in business 22 years and plans to hang in there, but he worries that he’ll have to “kiss my retirement goodbye.”

The landlord, Jerry Green, is on vacation in Europe, and was unavailable for comment.

A few doors down, the Talking Stick coffee house is facing an uncertain future.

A safe haven for teenagers, poets and knitting groups, the Talking Stick will probably have to close to make way for the Thyme Market and Cafe, the brainchild of the new building owner’s daughter, said Talking Stick owner Rich Braaksma.

Braaksma said he is marking time until he receives a promised 90-day notice from his landlord, the David J. O’Keefe Trust, who, according to Braaksma, is “stuck in the permit process.”

“Bureaucracy for once is working in our favor,” he said.

As pastor of a store-front church in Venice, the upbeat Braaksma is no stranger to getting by on a wing and a prayer. But he’s not sure what’s going to happen to his business.

“It’s a challenge,” he said.

 

“The landlord told us you won’t be able to have a Mom and Pop type business here.” Colby Evett.

 

“It’s economic, it’s that old English capitalism. It’s the game we have to play." Victor Larivee

 

“Bureaucracy for once is working in our favor.” Rich Braaksma

 

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