It’s no news that the burgeoning neighborhood of Highland Park is the swelling heart of North East Los Angeles (NELA). Real estate prices have been on the incline for the last decade, with a notable spike shooting cost of living rates through the roof the last five years.
Businesses, residents, and visitors alike gravitate to the quirky neighborhood outfitted in retro signage and radiating its deep-rooted history along the Arroyo Seco approaching the Angeles Crest Highway. Hundreds of Highland Park homes and buildings have made their way onto the National Historic Registry, serving as beacons of the ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhood and its founding fathers.
There’s something magnetic about a particular building on the corner of Avenue 60 and Figueroa. An old metal blue and white sign reading “Coldest Beer in Town” serves as a staple figure in Highland Park, as it gives a glimpse into the area’s past.
The family that runs the “Coldest beer in town” Highland Park Liquor store has been in the building since 2002. They will spend the rest of 2016 deciding whether or not they will resign their lease in 2017, following the finalization of the sale of the building this month for $6.9 million dollars.
“Everything on this block is around $3-$3.25 per square foot,” comments Richard, one of the storeowners. “When our lease is up, the rent will go up to $4 per square foot. The only difference is that there is a new fence out back.”
Although the tenants of the building have been making their rent checks out to Engine Real Estate, LLC for the better part of the last three years, the final word is rather recent. Engine Real Estate, LLC also owns Frank’s Camera on Figueroa, a famous landmark for its beautiful brick façade, hand painted words, and large metal signage on Figueroa just across from the Historic Highland Theatre.
While the liquor shop owners will crunch some numbers and even consider a revamping of their inventory to potentially better cater to the changing demographic of clients in the area, the other small business tenants seem to want to stick around for the changes.
Popular vegan restaurant, The Kitchen Mouse, recently expanded and renovated their space. There is a line of people out the door on weekends speaking to the demand of the their food and bustling business.
Before The Kitchen Mouse occupied the little space on Figueroa, the shop used to house a small appliance shop which has since been pushed to the rear of the complex.
Residential tenants occupy the second floor of the building, and it is unclear whether they will continue to reside there once the leases turn-over after the year is through. Some of the tenants have lived in the building for over twenty years.
Along with The Kitchen Mouse, Mount Analog, an eclectic, “left-field” record shop has lived there for over four years. Zane and Mahssa, the owners of Mount Analog, are also sticking around for the upcoming changes, and have just resigned their lease for another five years.
Mount Analog is unique, finely curated, and carries a vast collection of rare goods by hard-to-find artists. They wanted to open a business because of a lot of the same reasons several businesses are looking to make their ways into the area.
“We wanted to open a shop that was approachable and could act as a sort of cultural hub,” says Zane. “ There has always been a huge DIY presence in LA since forever, we are a part of that.”
There is something deeply communal about these niche communities and businesses around LA. To be interested in something here is different than, say, somewhere like Brooklyn, New York where there is a good chance that everything is in walking distance. In Los Angeles, you have to do a little more searching whilst navigating the sprawl, and when you find it, it is instantly more meaningful. Value increases, and people are willing to travel for things they value.
So what kind of clientele are these real estate moguls trying to capitalize on? Generally, it is college educated people in their mid 20s to early 40s as well as young families.
The owners of the building on the corner of Avenue 60 and Figueroa commented that they are looking forward to “Brooklynizing” the neighborhood. While this comment is cringe worthy for reasons that are pretty obvious, there is something to say about the changing times not only here but also in every major city across the country.
One wouldn’t even have to look very far to see the pattern. Just ask anyone who has lived in Silver Lake, Echo Park, or Los Feliz for the last thirty years. Stormie, of Stormie Art and Jewelry (@StormieJewelry) is an artist that has lived in the area for that long and has witnessed the transformation first hand.
“I remember living in Pasadena thirty years ago. When we would come down to Highland Park for things, we’d try to avoid going past York Boulevard because there really wasn’t any reason to go down into the little neighborhood. When I moved into Highland Park twenty years ago, I would tell people where I lived and they would ask, ‘where…?!” Stormie recalls of her time in the neighborhood.
Living costs are continuing to rise, and in return, we must learn to adapt, or we can opt for moving somewhere the change is happening at a more pedestrian speed. This isn’t to say that the guys in suits are coming in to ransack and obliterate our beloved neighborhood. Well, not completely, at least. They are finding ways to capitalize by finding interesting people doing interesting things and transplanting them into a space where their work will bring in other interested individuals. Although this is good for those select interesting individuals, it’s also bound to ruffle some feathers, especially the feathers of those Mom and Pop shops that might have lived comfortably on the now-prime-real-estate for years.