Montrose Shopping Park's restaurants and cafes

Montrose Shopping Park's restaurants and cafes. (Steve Greenberg / Times Community News / February 12, 2014)

In the last few months, Montrose saw two longtime eateries, a cafe and a cupcake maker close their doors. But nearly immediately, all four spaces were filled.

At the corner of Honolulu Avenue and Verdugo Road, Blue Jeans and Benitoite, are nearing their grand openings across the street from one another, replacing Rocky Cola Cafe and Polkatots, respectively.

Seasoning Alley — a Mediterranean-themed restaurant — will open in the space formerly inhabited by Al’s Italian American Deli while Thee Elbow Room recently opened in the spot where Java Brew used to be.

Armen Rostomian, who will be opening Benitoite in the next few months, said the number of eateries in the area does not bother him.

“New restaurants open in highly saturated areas all the time,” said Rostomian. “I think the route I chose is different enough to stand alone.”

Though happy for the openings, some retailers are concerned about the overall mix of businesses in the area.

Dale Dawson, the owner of Mountain Rose Gifts, said restaurants encourage foot traffic and, hopefully, shopping.

“God forbid they didn’t come in,” said Dawson, who also handles accounting and advertising for the Montrose Shopping Park Assn. “They’re keeping the place full. Every place is filled.”

Still, he said, more and more restaurants have moved in during the last 10 years, leaving far fewer retailers. The overall economy is to blame, he said, not just in Montrose but everywhere.

“You just have to look back a decade to the recession,” said Dawson. “That was the beginning of the loss of traditional retailers. They began dropping like flies in 2008.”

MSPA member and owner of It Takes a Village…Kids, Gigi Garcia said she would like to see more retail shops on the block.

“It is called a shopping park,” said Garcia. “With all the restaurants, salons and exercise places, at some point it becomes more service [oriented].”

Other communities in the Southland, such as San Clemente, have faced similar challenges.

About 20 years ago, there was no nightlife in downtown San Clemente, according to Jim Holloway, that city’s community development director.

City officials had to “liberalize and modernize” codes dealing with issues such as parking to help the downtown thrive, he said, adding that a significant part of the area’s success has been driven by restaurants, which bring in foot traffic.

Holloway said he wouldn’t want to necessarily not allow any more restaurants.

“It’s a complex dynamic,” he said. “You have to kinda let the economic forces drive whatever is going to happen. If you get in the way of that … to disallow restaurants, you’ll have vacant buildings.”

Vacancies can lead to other problems such as graffiti, vandalism and the homeless squatting inside empty buildings, he added.

Holloway also said the retail landscape is changing across the country for both small boutiques and big-box stores feeling the pinch. The reason: the advent of online shopping.

Despite these pressures, Andre Ordubegian, the Montrose association’s president, said his group has been working with landlords in the area to encourage them to seek out — and rent to — retailers as well as restaurateurs.

Of course, he notes, the group can only encourage this, and are limited not only by the landlords, but the type of business owners that want to open on Honolulu.

Garcia feels there is no communication between shops and landlords.

“We just want to see everyone who wants to get on the block get a fair shake,” she said.

Rent is among the problems in enticing new businesses. Although Garcia said the costs are reasonable, Dawson said the prices are “all over the lot.”

“There are so many different landlords,” said Dawson. “The big commercial investors are the ones who will put the squeeze on you, but those who have been here for decades will be easier to work with.”

“How can we lure retailers? There won’t be a solution until housing starts to heal,” said Dawson. “When housing is in the toilet — we’re all in the toilet. It’s gonna take a while.”

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Follow Mark Kellam on Twitter: @LAMarkKellam.

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