Staying or Leaving Broadway

Carlos Fejada is standing on Broadway Street in front of his wholesale store, a mainstay of downtown Los Angeles for 20 years. He’s reviewed the schedule of the Pedestrian Enhancement Project of Broadway Street and he’s making plans to move out of Broadway.

Fejada started his clothing business on Broadway Street in the 1990s long before big restaurants and retailers started moving in. He said, business was better in the old days. “There were a lot of Spanish-speaker who came here, but most of them don’t come here anymore,” Fejada said.

Business started to decline six years ago, when some long-time customers stop showing up. “Before that moment, the business was still good,” Fejada said.

The city of Los Angeles government launched the Bring Back Broadway project six years ago. Now, the city government is going to tear down some stores along the sidewalk and widen the sidewalk on Broadway Street.

“Maybe, it is time to move now,” Fejada said. He is not certain about the future of his business. He doesn’t know to where he should move. “It is not easy to start a new life,” he said. But he knows that if he chooses to stay, there will be more big companies and franchises coming to Broadway Street. The ecology of this street would be thoroughly changed. For him, staying or leaving are both difficult options.

A short distance from Fejada’s store on Broadway Street, Joanne Chau and his father have been running their cosmetics store, PerfumeLA, for 10 years. Now, they are facing the same problem as Fejada. But, she said, they have decided to stay. “I can foresee some benefits,” Chau smiled.

Unlike Fejada’s store, Chau is lucky. The renovation of the street would only affect a third part of her store. “We will have to change the layout,” Chau said. “But, the view of the street will be better. There is benefit but it’s not for sure,” she added.

Chau hopes the enhancement would bring more customers to Broadway Street, and make the area safer. “Now, most stores are closing doors before 6:30pm,” she said. The wider sidewalk and tidy lay out would be definitely convenient for both of customers and business owners.

“I am afraid too,” Chau said. As more big companies and brands coming to Broadway, the competition between small stores and big brand name malls will be challenging. “They will beat our price,”Chau said. “But, it could be an opportunity too, we never know.”

Clothing and cosmetics wholesales are not the only big draws to Broadway, Jewelers also pay a big role. Thomas, who declined to reveal his last name, has a watch and jewelry booth inside a big jewelry mall on the corner of 6th and Broadway streets. He said he has no choice but to move out soon.

“I didn’t get the renewing lease from the property owner, I have to find a new place,” Thomas said. According to the city plan, stores qualify for relocation help only if these storeowners possess a valid lease contract.

In fact, Thomas has negotiated with the manager of the property about the new lease contract few months ago. But he didn’t sign the contract. He thinks, the property owner would increase the rates. “Many stores are still empty, but more retails are coming,” Lopez said, “My rent is 1,000 per month now. But I can’t afford it if it has been risen up.”

The vacancy rate of the stores on Broadway Street was near 20 percent last year, according to a retail survey, conducted by the Bring Back Broadway project. Rents have increased with the rebirth of Broadway and many new shops and restaurants are swarming the street.

“The business was much worse five years ago,” Thomas said. “The economy was terrible, and jewelry is the last thing for people, foods come first.”

Now as the jewelry business on Broadway Street begins to pick up, Thomas is left little choice but to leave.

He doesn’t have a plan. If he were to somehow find a way to stay, he said he would have to compete with those big companies. Leaving means having to find a new location and, he hopes, a new way to survive.

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