Inside the New Moon restaurant, a Chinese restaurant in the heart of the Los Angeles Fashion District, the lunch crowd was sparse on a recent afternoon when store owners and shoppers were in town for Los Angeles Market Week.
Of the 22 tables, only three were occupied. A waiter worked on the floor while the only cook in the kitchen sautéed dumplings in a skillet.
The restaurant’s general manager, Juan Galindo, was packing small plastic containers with soy sauce and hot peppers during the slow lunch hour. He regretted that there were no more customers that day. “The business has been hit or miss for some time now, but our catering business is coming back,” he said. “Many of our customers are still working from home.”
New Moon has long been the hangout for showrooms in fashion districts to order trays of food for shoppers from visiting stores or cross the street for a reasonably priced lunch from a menu known for its tasty chicken salad. Chinese.
It is also like the canary in the coal mine. If things are fine in New Moon, they are fine in the Los Angeles Fashion District. But like New Moon, the Los Angeles Fashion District is still coming back to life.
Showroom vacancies remain larger than before the pandemic. Many showroom owners have gone out of business or moved their operations to their homes. Others are sharing showrooms to save money.
What doesn’t help is the California Market Center, a massive, modern concrete structure that opened in 1963 as the region’s largest showroom center.
The 13-story complex — so large it has its own zip code — loomed over the area like an ugly giant. At the same time, the complex’s three interconnected buildings housed nearly 1,000 showrooms across 1.8 million square feet.
The showrooms were so popular that some tenants paid the key, or an extra fee, to secure the showroom rental. But as e-commerce competed with brick-and-mortar stores, showroom occupancy slowly declined over the years before the pandemic.
In 2017, Brookfield Properties purchased a majority stake in the building and spent $170 million to fully renovate each building. One building was reserved for showrooms and the other two were marketed as creative offices.
To give the complex a new look, Brookfield worked with architecture and design firm Gensler to develop a cleaner, sleeker complex to appeal to creative types looking for a modern workplace in downtown Los Angeles. The outside of the building has been covered with energy-efficient floor-to-ceiling windows and attractive landscaping adorning a renovated front courtyard, filled with tables, chairs and umbrellas.
Brookfield earlier this year unveiled the eye-catching, contemporary redesign of the two creative office buildings. Currently, they remain mostly vacant. The third showroom building has been open for some time, and tenants are slowly returning.
“The essence of the building has been a challenge,” said Sande Zipser, corporate sales manager for the Lindi/Oopera showroom, which has been at the California Market Center for years. “Showrooms are coming to CMC, but it’s slow. A lot of people left the building when it was being renovated and moved into other buildings.”
But two big corporate tenants are coming to creative office buildings in the coming months. Adidas is expecting 107,000 square feet of office space to be built for its marketing, design and sales force. Forever 21 will move its East downtown Los Angeles headquarters to the complex when its office space is built.
The California Market Center has not formally announced the arrival of Forever 21, but has confirmed via email that Forever 21’s parent company Simon Properties Authentic Retail Corp. .
Forever 21’s current headquarters are seven miles east of downtown Los Angeles, in a former Macy’s furniture store, which the fast-fashion retailer sold for $166 million in 2019, the same year it filed for bankruptcy protection. . Since then, it has rented space in the 2.1 million square meter structure.
Forever 21 employees are already working at the California Market Center in temporary spaces on the eighth and ninth floors of the showroom building, said Elizabeth Beery, vice president of purchasing at Forever 21, who was checking merchandise lined up on racks on the ninth floor. . “We are very excited to be moving to downtown Los Angeles and the Fashion District,” she said.
The top three floors of the showroom building are occupied by the Ross Stores purchasing offices.
Corporate tenants are expected to help fill ground-floor spaces in the complex reserved primarily for restaurants and retail. At the moment, they are almost empty. Earlier this year, Brookfield announced that Urbanspace, a dining hall with 19 restaurants, would be coming to the ground floor. This has not yet materialised. And a gym planned for the ground floor hasn’t opened either.
On the showroom side of the complex, there has been some positive movement. At the beginning of the year, the CMC had around 30 showrooms. There are now approximately 80 showrooms spread over seven floors, with the heaviest representation being the 24 children’s clothing showrooms on the fifth floor.
Kristian Rene, owner of the Junkie Collection, opened her first showroom on the fourth floor of the CMC two years ago, though the rent was higher than other showroom buildings. The California Market Center offered smaller showrooms like hers, at 600 square feet, which helped save money. “The experience of having a showroom has opened me up to new avenues, doing more business and meeting all kinds of people that I feel I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” she said during the June 12-16 market week. (There are no readily available attendance figures for the number of buyers or retailers in the market week.)
Across the street, at The New Mart, a 96-year-old brick structure with about 100 showrooms, the vacancy rate hovers around 15% compared to a nearly full building before COVID-19 changed things.
Before the pandemic, Designers and Agents, a fair for contemporary brands, took place four times a year on the third floor of the building. This has been reduced to twice a year, leaving another income gap. To fill the Designers and Agents void, New Mart General Manager Tom Keefer revamped the third floor. He went down the walls to bare brick, enhancing the artistic ambience of the 15,000-square-foot space and better exposing the fashion runway in the back.
For the recent Los Angeles Fashion Market, four nights of beach fashion shows were held. About 20 designers organized shows in conjunction with Art Hearts Fashion, whose owner Erik Rosete is known for his events at Los Angeles Fashion Week in March and October, as well as shows in New York and Miami. “It was a great success,” Keefer said. “Frankly, we are trying to bring more enthusiasm to the fashion community in downtown.”
More excitement would be good news for the high-end boutiques that have sprung up in the area in recent years. Before the pandemic, LA’s Fashion District was gaining prominence as a trendy place to be. New boutique hotels like the Ace Hotel and the Freehand have opened in renovated historic buildings, attracting a hip and creative crowd. Apple was renovating a downtrodden 1927 Renaissance theater with painted ceilings for its latest retail adventure.
One of the first brands to venture into the fashion district when retail was still a gamble was APC The French ready-to-wear brand known for its jeans arrived in 2015 and is still around. But things have been challenging. “Before the pandemic, business was very good,” said Ayako Woods, a saleswoman who keeps the store’s front door locked for security reasons. “But business went up and down.”
She said APC stores in Los Angeles’ artsy Silver Lake district and West Hollywood are doing much better.
In January 2020, Ganni, the Danish women’s clothing line, joined the exclusive stores club on South Broadway, on the same block as the Apple store, which opened in mid-2021 after a three-year renovation.
Business is just starting to improve as apartment buildings fill with residents. “We knew it was going to be slow,” said Adrian Manzo, the store’s supervisor, who said the store was closed for six months during the height of the pandemic.
A few doors down, British designer Paul Smith opened a 1,200-square-foot store in July 2020. It also had to close for six months. Sales began to return about six months ago, with more lawyers and office tenants returning to their workspaces.
“Before the pandemic, you really saw the neighborhood taking off,” said Luis Prado, store manager Paul Smith. “But the pandemic hit this neighborhood harder than others. We hope you come back.”