As the pandemic continues to surge at unprecedented rates, studies show that small businesses are among the hardest hit, with experts predicting that over 160,000 businesses have already been forced to permanently close their doors. The effect of the pandemic is apparent on Larchmont Boulevard, a popular street for Marlborough students. Once teeming with small businesses, it is now expected to have 30 store vacancies by the end of the year.
Among the stores at risk of closure on Larchmont include longtime businesses such as Chevalier’s Books, the oldest independent bookstore in Los Angeles, and Landis Labyrinth Toys, an eight-year occupant of the street. Another small business struggling during the pandemic is Village Pizzeria, a popular New York-style pizza restaurant that first opened 24 years ago.
Similar to many other restaurants during the pandemic, Village Pizzeria has only been filling take-out orders since March in accordance with local regulations, and had only recently opened outdoor seating, before being forced to close again with the new restrictions in Los Angeles. According to the owner Steve Cohen, the business has fallen 60% since the start of the pandemic.
“When you continue to lose sales during the pandemic due to government limits you find out that the balance [income] is not even anymore, and you start wondering if it is all worth it,” Cohen said.
Cohen also noted that while the pandemic is drastically hurting many businesses on Larchmont, it is ultimately the high cost of rent that is forcing many of the businesses to close.
Cohen’s lease in particular is controlled by American Commercial Equities, which is owned by billionaire B. Wayne Hughes. According to Cohen, American Commercial Equities is seeking to resume normal payments by early next year, along with a proportion of repayment for the currently-deferred rent over the next two years. With the hopes of persuading his landlord to give him a break on rent given the circumstances, Cohen is asking patrons of the restaurant to sign a petition.
“We strongly encourage you [American Commercial Equities] to negotiate a fair resolution to the pre-pandemic high rent issue coupled with the mandated restrictions imposed on them by the pandemic crisis which has devastated this boulevard and many other small Mom and Pop establishments and communities,” the petition reads.
Marlborough students are also showing their support for the beloved pizza restaurant by signing the petition. Layla ‘22 has gone with her family to the restaurant since she was five years old.
“I would be really sad if Village Pizzeria closed because their food is really good and I have been having their pizza since I was little. The restaurant was a huge part of my childhood and I hope it stays on Larchmont,” Layla said.
Cohen is not the only small business on Larchmont that is experiencing the effects of the pandemic coupled with high rent. The historic Lipson building, which is home to many small businesses (including Chevalier’s Books), was recently purchased by the real estate investment firm Christina Development Corporation. The firm is currently requiring that all the business leave by the end of the year, which is forcing stores like Chevalier’s to make the tough decision between permanent closure or switching to a more expensive location on Larchmont.
Owner Edie Frere of Landis Gifts & Stationery, who has had her store for 25 years, is one of the businesses making the decision to relocate away from Larchmont.
“The rents are just too high, especially given the current state of the world,” Frere said. “There is an unrealistic expectation of the clientele on Larchmont; it is a little neighborhood shopping street, not Rodeo Drive. I am hoping that the character of the street will not change.”