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Sunday, May 28, 2023

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When Alex Kagianaris was looking for a location to expand his business, a trendy better burger bar with some 30 craft beers on tap, he didn’t look for long. Kagianaris opened his first Stout Burgers and Beers in Hollywood, and the choice for his second this past August: right over the hill in Studio City. “There’s enough of a hip crowd here for a Hollywood-type concept to work,” is how Kagianaris put it. He specifically chose a spot on Ventura Boulevard not far from Vineland Avenue, which is all the more interesting. The location is far from the traditional palm tree-lined heart of the district west of Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Studio City has long been one of the hippest neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley, and while it took a hit from the recession as retail vacancy rates rose, it has comeback strong. The neighborhood is spreading out and filling in, benefitting from a spillover effect from the bustling development in Hollywood – even if not all locals love what is going on. New nightspots are opening, such as dance club Page 71 Lounge and the Laurel Tavern bar – and with a distinct Hollywood atmosphere. National retailers are doubling down on the district. In the last two years, popular workout-wear brand Lululemon Athletica Inc. of Vancouver and vintage-inspired clothing maker Wasteland Inc. of Los Angeles have opened. Before the recession started in 2006, the neighborhood had a retail vacancy rate of 1.9 percent. By 2009, it had ballooned upward to 7.2 percent, according to the Irvine office of commercial brokerage Colliers International. The rate is now down to 2.6 percent. Matthew May, a retail broker and president of May Realty Advisors in Los Angeles, said Studio City took a bigger hit than other parts of the Valley during the recession due to its relatively high lease rates. But now that shoppers have returned, he said retailers are willing to pay the premium $3.50 to $4.50 per-square-foot price to be there. “Yeah, it’s expensive,” May said. “But if you want to get an affluent shopper and be in the Valley, Studio City is the place to be.” Food and drink Conrad Lyon, senior restaurant analyst at L.A. equity research firm B. Riley & Co., said Studio City is the top market in the Valley for trendy restaurants. And with that clustering, competition is natural. “They intentionally build next to each other,” he said. “There’s ego to being a restaurateur.” The company that started the race in Los Angeles for the best gourmet burger, Umami Restaurant Group LLC, opened its first San Fernando Valley outlet in Studio City in February 2011, 18 months ahead of Stout. Umami is best known for its house burger, which features shitake mushrooms, caramelized onions and Umami ketchup. But this is not the first time the companies have been in direct, neighborly competition. The first Stout opened in 2009 less than 100 feet away from another Umami outlet on North Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood. Kagianaris said the Stout location in Studio City is matching sales numbers with the original location, despite being on the fringe of the neighborhood, across the street from Office Depot. The 2,400-square-foot restaurant is in an old brick building and is packed with crowds of 25- to 40-year-olds feasting on artisan burgers such as the Goombah, which has parmesan flakes, smoked mozzarella, prosciutto and a lemon basil aioli. Stout features 10 burgers that each cost $10 and recommends beer pairings to accompany each. “This is the perfect demographic for us,” Kagianaris said. Studio City also is the home of PizzaRev, a chain that operates three outlets in the Valley and offers patrons an assembly line to craft custom 11-inch pizzas that sell for a flat $7.95, regardless of the type or number of toppings. The restaurant, which also has outlets in Northridge and Woodland Hills, is so popular that national chain Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. recently invested in it. Studio City has its stalwarts too, including Vitello’s Restaurant on Tujunga Avenue, Mexicali on Ventura Boulevard and Art’s Deli, which opened in 1957. Harold Ginsburg, who has operated the Ventura Boulevard deli since his father, the founder, stepped back in 2010, said the new restaurants have brought both more competition and foot traffic. He has mixed feelings about it. “There are more people on the street than ever,” he said. “But it takes a little away from the homey neighborhood feel.” Fashion In fact, national retailers have been in Studio City for years. Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters Inc. and American Apparel Inc. of Los Angeles have operated outlets on Ventura Boulevard for more than five years. But throw in big-box supply stores like Staples Inc. and furniture retailers like Pier 1 Imports Inc. as well as the new national chains, and there is a sense that the neighborhood feel is fading. “It’s like West Third Street. You have everything here. It’s the strongest (Valley) retail space outside of Calabasas,” said May, the retail broker. Strip centers, which many of the national retailers anchor, took the biggest hit in the down years, according to Colliers. Between 2006 and 2009, strip center vacancy rates skyrocketed from 1.1 to 10.8 percent in Studio City. The rebound isn’t complete, but vacancies have fallen to 4.2 percent so far this year. Lululemon, Wasteland, and Free People, a subsidiary of Urban Outfitters, have opened in Ventura Boulevard strip centers in the last two years. All the hustle and bustle has supported a number of homegrown boutiques as well, including Lotus Home, a custom furniture builder that opened in 2009, and Frock, a women’s boutique that opened in 2011. Limelight Boutique, an upscale women’s fashion retailer opened on a one block strip on Tujunga Avenue two and a half years ago. Sales are on the rise for the boutique, which can clothe a patron in an outfit for $500. “Studio City has the right clientele,” said Cindy Soler, owner of Limelight. Esther Walker, executive director at the Studio City Chamber of Commerce, said her group has seen a significant increase in business members since the recession. “We’ve seen growth across the board,” she said. Still, for all the growth, the community has its development challenges. Retail broker Jeffrey Gould, a senior associate at Colliers, said many of the strip centers and stand-alone buildings are old and will need substantial redevelopment in the coming years. And although older buildings are now in vogue, they limit potential. Gould said that for more modern, mixed-use retail centers to be constructed, some buildings may ultimately get scrapped. “It takes time for urban development to happen,” he said. Under the stars As Studio City has increasingly drawn a younger demographic, a higher demand for nightlife has followed. One popular late night offering is the Laurel Tavern, which was started by the men behind The Library Bar, a Downtown gastro pub. Will Shamlian and Mark Leddy opened the tavern in 2008 and it has quickly become a Studio City hotspot, with its brick-lined wall and bright blue barstools. Bryan Suckut, owner of Page 71 Lounge on Ventura Boulevard, opened his first nightclub in Studio City in 2003. In September 2011, he remodeled the club, previously called Clear, to feature a dark, warm interior with black leather walls, high ceilings and a solid white granite bar top. The club features live DJs and plays a variety of popular music, from funk to jazz and hip-hop. A night at Page 71 is not cheap: drinks start around $8 to $10 and go up. “Studio City is all about new,” he said. “People always want to go to the new place and do the new thing. Here, you can get the Hollywood experience and flavor in the Valley.” Page 71 is located in one of the areas of Studio City that has been less desirable historically – east of Laurel Canyon Boulevard. It’s adjacent to a pharmacy and sushi restaurant and across the street is a Firestone auto care store. Entrepreneurs with the nerve to open on such blocks have helped fill in Studio City’s dead zones. While the primary retail space is still centered on Ventura and Laurel Canyon Boulevards, it’s hard to find vacancies anywhere. A rejuvenated Sportsmen’s Lodge has brought more bustle to the western edge of the community near Coldwater Canyon Boulevard. The historic 200-room hotel and event center was bought for $50 million in 2009 by Malibu developer Richard Weintraub and his Weintraub Real Estate Group. The hotel underwent major renovations, including refurbished decks, walkways and ponds. Two years ago it opened River Rock Lounge, a bar and restaurant that has indoor and outdoor seating, live music twice a week and DJs on weekends. At a cost John Walker, president of the Studio City Neighborhood Council, a group that helps businesses with permits and applications, said the city is stronger than it’s ever been. But there’s a cost that comes with popularity. As almost all of the “For Lease” signs on Ventura Boulevard have disappeared and retail has blossomed, driving through town has become a chore. “I always get complaints about the traffic here,” he said. “If there was a place to widen the boulevard, we would. But we can’t.” What’s more, some residents are unhappy about how the traffic can stretch well into the night and early morning. Alan Dymond, president of the Studio City Residents Association, said parking near the bars and clubs is impossible, often causing patrons to park south of the boulevard on residential streets. “It’s tough to keep it under control,” he said. “But not much can be done. This is a hopping area.”

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