It’s no secret that small business owners and entrepreneurs have begun to take notice of York Boulevard in Highland Park. In the last few years, the area between Avenues 50 and 52 has continued to transform.
Co-eds now sip their coffee next to parents with strollers at . People working from their laptops take a bite into huevos rancheros or bulgogi sandwiches next to friends meeting for lunch, at the . Second Saturday Gallery Night is held once a month throughout the shops and a is in the works at the corner of the York Boulevard and Avenue 50.
Of the stores coming to York Boulevard however, the most popular seem to be interior design and furniture shops.
The affordable rent, large warehouse style buildings and a clientele that is interested in reviving their historic homes, has created the perfect storm to support these businesses.
To learn more about what is bringing these businesses to York, Patch caught up with the , Matters of Space, SawHorse, K and Showtime to learn more about the rise of home design and furniture shops on the Boulevard.
The Glass Studio is one of the older “new” businesses on the block, approaching its two-year anniversary in one month.
Cathi Milligan, the owner of Glass Studio, and President of NELAart, has lived in the area for ten years. She said that seeing the anchor stores and restaurants on the boulevard alerted her to York Boulevard's potential.
“Johnny's [Bar], The York; Future Music, they have all been here over four years. I like to think of them as the pioneers, they let everyone know that this is possibly a viable street,” Milligan said.
Coming to Highland Park
SawHorse employee Phillipp Minnig said owner Jim Jewett had a good feeling about the area upon opening his store in March.
“We like that it has more of a street vibe, we don’t want to be in a super commercial place, but we also don’t want to commit commercial suicide. The fact that the rent was affordable and it had a really interesting energy sealed the deal,” Minnig said.
Showtime, which opened in April, sells “famous” furniture, pieces that owner EL Rodriguez had previously selected for television shows and movies during his time working as a designer in the film industry. When his adopted son from Highland Park opened a vintage children's and women's clothing store down the street, he too found himself falling in love with the boulevard.
“You know people said, 'Do it on Melrose, do it on Robertson' and I said, 'No, I think I want to do it in Highland Park,’” Rodriguez said. “I like it's very diverse, that it’s edgy, when we do our art walks here, it’s a mixture of strollers with arts patrons.”
PJ Roden, who co-owns Matters of Space with Katerina Gabbro, said that she appreciated the accessibility of the area.
“We love this intersection obviously because of the coffee shop, the closeness to Occidental college and the walkability of the street,” Roden said. “People can come in and talk to us, ask us questions, we can be open and accessible to the needs of the community here.”
Katherine Ferwerda, owner of K, is both an artist and an entrepreneur. She moved to Mount Washington after leaving Silver Lake, and eventually found that York Boulevard was perfectly suited to her artistic and business aspirations.
"There are just a lot of big, quasi-warehouse type spaces and storefront spaces. Ever since I was 17 and started looking at what the possibilities were as an artist, I wanted a studio and a storefront," said Ferwerda, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate. "It's either a storefront or a warehouse. You just want a big space where you can have your tools and throw paint around and maybe put it in the window and someone will come by and buy it."
One of the main reasons Roden and Gabbro decided to open in the area because they love the buildings of Highland Park.
“Our business is architectural design--what we know very well is the California bungalow,” Roden said. “Highland Park is full of small 1920's bungalows and we give people the tools to renovate them on a budget, so they don’t have to just buy off the rack stuff that might take away from the character and history of the houses.”
Roden said the 1920s bungalows have a unique style and beauty to them that is worth preserving.
“Bungalows are so pretty. They have beautiful molding, wood sidings and they’re made with materials that people don’t even use anymore,” Roden said. "The craftsmanship in them is something that you just don’t get nowadays.”
Minnig said that people moving to the area are also interested in maintaining the history of their homes, and SawHorse is able to help them do that.
“We maintain and renovate people's stuff and reuse it and re-contextualize it in a new way that puts an artistic slant on it, but is still faithful to the history of the piece,” Minning said. “The people that come in here come to this neighborhood to buy homes, I think they’re interested in preserving the history of their house, they don’t want to rip it all apart.”
Ferwerda said many artists and designers are drawn to Highland Park and Mount Washington by the area's historic housing stock. Often, they'll hone their interior design and furniture rehabilitation skills while working on their own homes.
"Mount Washington is a great place to find an old fixer-upper. If you're at all interested in building or renovating, that's what you dream of--buying a house that's sort of old and run down so you can mash it up and make it your own thing. I think that's really attractive to designers," she said.
By Highland Park, for Highland Park
Many of the storeowners said they live nearby, Some even walk to work. Roden and Gabbro are locals and they take pride in contributing to the community.
“We believe in community [and we] wanted to be part of community we live in, as opposed to doing design-work on the Westside,” Roden said. “As designers, we wanted to live and work in our neighborhood and offer a service to the people of Highland Park that wasn’t here.”
Rodriguez said the community feel of Highland Park is extraordinary and a huge reason that he wanted to set up shop here.
“I’ve lived in the suburbs of LA and Boston and I've never felt really the sense of community that I feel here. I know the bakery owner, I know all the stores here and I’ve only been here a few months.” Rodriguez said.
Roden and Gabbro, who opened their store almost two years ago, said that they have continued to see the area grow.
“We were the first of the design stores,” Roden said. “There’s definitely more foot traffic then a year-and-a-half ago. We’ve had an influx of home buyers to the neighborhood, people priced out of places like Silver Lake and Eagle Rock.”
Minning said that the neighborhood has been receptive to their store.
“Business has been getting better. At first it was slow, people in the neighborhood didn’t really know what to do with the shop, now we’re getting regulars, and we have kids coming in constantly to look at the odds and ends,” Minning said.
“It’s interesting because this is a new kind of shop in the area, people look at it and think, ‘Oh, I can’t afford this’ then they realize it’s very affordable. I also include interior design with it so I’ll go to the house and measure or redesign the bedroom to get the pieces to fit,” Rodriguez said. “People now send their neighbors and friends.”
As business has continued to improve, the owners have different thoughts on how they would like to see the boulevard expand in the next few years.
“I just hope it stays like a really vibrant community mix of all cultures, that it’s walkable and people have a pride of home ownership," Roden said. "I also hope to keep getting homes back to how they looked in 1930, when the houses were new. That would be my dream.”
Rodriguez envisions York becoming a destination.
"I want it to develop from Eagle Rock Boulevard, all the way to Figueroa," Rodriguez said. “I can see this whole strip being Old Town Pasadena. A thriving walking community.”
Minning said he just hopes that SawHorse and other businesses continue to contribute to York’s unique culture.
"We want to be a place that’s serves the community, that doesn’t just cater to a community form the Westside that gentrifies the neighborhood," Minnig said. "We want to stay in touch with the neighborhood and add our own positive aspect for it and keep the natural flow of the neighborhood going."