Los Angeles fashion district struggles to return to business before pandemic – WWD

Inside New Moon Restaurant, a Chinese restaurant in the heart of the Los Angeles fashion district, the lunch crowd was rare on a recent afternoon when shop owners and shoppers were in town for Los Angeles Market Week.

Of the 22 tables, only three were occupied. A waiter was working the floor while the only cook in the kitchen was frying dumplings in a pan.

The restaurant’s general manager, Juan Galindo, packed small plastic containers with soy sauce and hot peppers during the slow lunch. He complained that no more customers came that day. “The business has been affected or missed for some time, but our catering business is coming back,” he said. “Many of our clients still work from home.”

New Moon has long been a favorite spot for fashion neighborhood showrooms to order food trays for shoppers or to walk across the street for a reasonably priced lunch from a menu known for its delicious Chinese chicken salad.

It’s just like the canary in the coal mine. If things are good on New Moon, they’re fine in the Los Angeles fashion district. But like the New Moon, the Los Angeles fashion district is still coming back to life.

Vacancies in the showroom remain higher than before the pandemic. Many showroom owners have gone out of business or relocated to their homes. Others share showrooms to save money.

The California Shopping Center, a massive modern concrete structure that first opened in 1963 as the largest showroom center in the region, is not helping.

The 13-storey complex – so large that it has its own zip code – towered over the area like an ugly giant. At one time, the three interconnected buildings of the complex housed about 1,000 showrooms, covering 1.8 million square feet.

Showrooms were so sought after that some tenants paid key money or an additional fee to secure a showroom rental. But as e-commerce competed with ordinary shops, showroom occupancy slowly declined in the years before the pandemic.

In 2017, Brookfield Properties bought a controlling stake in the building and spent $ 170 million on a complete renovation of each building. One building was reserved for showrooms, and the other two were launched as a creative office space.

To give the complex a new look, Brookfield is working with architecture and design firm Gensler to develop a cleaner and more elegant complex to attract creative people looking for a modern job in downtown Los Angeles. The exterior of the building has been redesigned with energy-efficient floor-to-ceiling windows and attractive landscaping, adorning a renovated front terrace populated with tables, chairs and umbrellas.

Brookfield unveiled the attractive and contemporary redesign of the two creative office buildings earlier this year. At present, they remain mostly unoccupied. The third showroom building has been open for some time, and tenants are slowly returning.

“The essence of the building was a challenge,” said Sande Zipser, corporate sales manager for the Lindi / Oopera showroom, which has been in the California Mall for years. “Showrooms come to CMC, but it’s slow. Many people moved out of the building when it was rebuilt and moved to other buildings. “

But two large corporate tenants are coming to the creative office buildings in the coming months. Adidas is waiting for 107,000 square feet of office space to be built for its marketing, design and sales staff. Forever 21 will move its headquarters east of downtown Los Angeles to the complex when its office is built.

The California Mall has not officially announced the arrival of Forever 21, but confirmed by email that Forever 21’s parent company, Simon Properties Authentic Retail Corp., has signed a long-term lease that, according to commercial property sources, should cover 100,000 square feet. feet.

The current Forever 21 headquarters is seven miles east of downtown LA in an old Macy’s furniture store, which the fast-paced fashion retailer sold for $ 166 million in 2019, the same year it filed for bankruptcy protection. Since then, it has occupied a space in the 2.1 million square meter structure.

Forever 21 employees are already working at the California Mall outside the temporary spaces on the eighth and ninth floors of the showroom, said Elizabeth Beery, vice president of purchasing Forever 21, which inspected goods lined up on the ninth floor. “We’re really excited to move to downtown Los Angeles and the fashion district,” she said.

The top three floors of the showroom building are occupied by the headquarters of the Ross Stores purchasing offices.

Corporate tenants must help fill the ground floor areas of the complex, reserved mainly for restaurants and retail. At the moment they are mostly empty. Earlier this year, Brookfield announced that Urbanspace, a dining hall with 19 restaurants, would come to the ground floor. This has not yet happened. And the fitness center provided for the ground floor is also not open.

On the side of the showroom of the complex there is some positive movement. At the beginning of the year, CMC had about 30 showrooms. There are now approximately 80 showrooms spread over seven floors, with the largest representation being the 24 children’s clothing showrooms on the fifth floor.

Christian Rene, owner of the Junkie Collection, opened his first showroom on the fourth floor of the CMC two years ago, although rents were higher than other showroom buildings. The California Mall offered smaller showrooms like hers at 600 square feet, which helped save money. “Trying to have a showroom has opened up new avenues for me, to do more business and to meet all kinds of people I don’t think I would have met otherwise,” she said during the marketing week of June 12-16. (No attendance data is available for the number of shoppers or shop owners during the marketing week.)

The Los Angeles fashion district is struggling to get its business back.
Michael Buckner / WWD

Across the street from The New Mart, a 96-year-old brick structure with about 100 showrooms, the vacancy rate is about 15 percent compared to an almost full building before COVID-19 turned things around.

Prior to the pandemic, a modern Designers and Agents trade show was held on the third floor of the building four times a year. This has been reduced to twice a year, leaving a new income gap. To fill the gap for designers and agents, The New Mart’s general manager, Tom Kiefer, remodeled the third floor. He lowered the walls to bare brick, improving the artistic environment of the 15,000-square-foot space and better revealing the catwalk at the back.

For the recent fashion market in Los Angeles, four night fashion shows of swimsuits were held. About 20 designers co-organized the show with Art Hearts Fashion, whose owner Eric Rosette is known for his events at Los Angeles Fashion Week in March and October, as well as catwalk reviews in New York and Miami. “He was extremely successful,” Kiefer said. “Honestly, we’re trying to bring more excitement to the downtown fashion community.”

The Los Angeles fashion district is struggling to get its business back.

The Los Angeles fashion district is struggling to get its business back.
Michael Buckner / WWD

More excitement would be good news for the high-end boutiques that have sprung up in the area over the past few years. Before the Fashion District pandemic in Los Angeles, it was gaining popularity as a modern venue. New boutique hotels, such as Ace and Freehand, have opened their doors to renovated historic buildings, attracting cool and creative audiences. Apple has been renovating a ruined Renaissance theater since 1927 with painted ceilings for its latest retail adventure.

One of the first designer brands to risk coming to the fashion district when retail was still gambling was the APC French ready-to-wear clothing brand, known for its denim, arrived in 2015 and still exists. But things were challenging. “Before the pandemic, business was pretty good,” said Ayako Woods, a salesman who keeps the store’s front door locked for security reasons. “But business is up and down.”

She said APC stores in the Silver Lake art district of Los Angeles and West Hollywood are doing much better.

In January 2020, Ganni, the Danish women’s clothing line, joined the South Broadway Exclusive Stores Club, down the block from the Apple Store, which opened in mid-2021 after three years of renovation.

The business is just beginning to grow as multi-storey residential buildings are filled with residents. “We knew the arrival would be slow,” said Adrian Manzo, the store’s supervisor, who said the store had been closed for six months during the pandemic.

A few doors down, British designer Paul Smith opened a 1,200-square-foot store in July 2020. He also had to close in six months. Sales began to return about six months ago, with more lawyers and office tenants returning to their workplaces.

“Before the pandemic, you really saw the neighborhood fall apart,” said Luis Prado, store manager Paul Smith. “But the pandemic hit this neighborhood harder than others. We hope he returns. “

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