Monday, January 28, 2008

New Kids on the Barker Block

Retail Adds Life to Transforming Arts District

by Anna Scott

South Hewitt Street in the Arts District might soon be the only place in Downtown Los Angeles where you can find a double-wide coffin, a rubber toaster, a 12-foot tall papier-m ch» skeleton and doggie daycare on the same block.

A quartet of new businesses are setting up shop on the formerly industrial street, part of Kor Group's 297-unit, $75 million loft community Barker Block. The project occupies an entire block bounded by Hewitt, Fourth, Molino and Palmetto streets. Film prop emporium Reel Appeal and the nonprofit arts organization Arte Calidad Cultural Institute, which provides job training in commercial and traditional art, opened late last year at 523 S. Hewitt St. and 519 S. Hewitt St., respectively. In coming months, furniture store Loft Appeal East (from the same owners as Reel Appeal) will arrive at 521 S. Hewitt St. and dog grooming and daycare center Loftydog Academy will debut at 525 S. Hewitt St. A cafe is also in the works. The unique tenant mix was selected with care, said Tyson Sayles, executive vice president of acquisitions for Kor. "In the Historic Core and other parts of Downtown, you have a lot of foot traffic," said Sayles. "In the Arts District, the retailer needs to be a destination draw to survive." For some community members, the businesses bring welcome life to an underutilized street.

"Before, it was just a back industrial street," said Qathryn Brehm, director of marketing and community relations for the Central City East Association. Along with the rest of Barker Block and recent street improvements, she said, the new retail "creates a much more pleasant, safe and interesting area that you want to go to. It's a very positive change."

First Arrivals
Rich Reams and his partner Ron Senger, the owners of Reel Appeal and Loft Appeal East, opened their first Downtown store (Loft Appeal in South Park) about three years ago. They searched for months for a place to expand their business. They found a fit in Kor's 10,000-square-foot space at 521 S. Hewitt St. and the adjoined 7,000 square feet at 523 S. Hewitt St., said Reams.

"They enticed us with a great deal," Reams said. He added, "They were intuitive enough to know that bringing in someone like us would create buzz." For now, both spaces are crammed with thousands of film props, the recently purchased contents of a 55-year-old prop house. Rows of scaffold-like shelves and haphazardly arranged floors hold everything from kitchen appliances to a fake Jackson Pollack painting to an oversized globe used in an action movie. Reel Appeal, currently open Fridays though Sundays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., has "taken over the whole thing for a few months," Reams explained, taking stock of his space. By spring, he said, Reel Appeal and furniture store Loft Appeal East will be clearly delineated, with both stores open from noon-8 or 9 p.m. seven days a week. After settling on the Barker Block, Reams contacted Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council President Russell Brown for suggestions about other tenants. In turn, Brown contacted Tony Dominguez, founder of Arte Calidad. Over the past few years, Dominguez's organization has been headquartered in a series of temporary studios, mostly in East L.A. "This is our first home base," said Dominguez, 38. The former pi ata-maker specializes in creating large-scale papier-m ch» puppets. On a recent afternoon, his sprawling, 15,000-square-foot space was littered with artworks including a 9-foot tall, hand-crafted Virgen de Guadalupe and a massive, smiling sun. Arte Calidad is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., offering exhibits and various workshops for adults and children. "It's a great opportunity to be part of Downtown, with the renaissance in art here," said Dominguez. "We're here to add to the community spirit and to bring people to Barker Block, because it should be a destination."

More to Come
The Loftydog Academy is expected to open in a 7,000-square-foot warehouse in the spring, offering dog daycare, grooming services and a Friday afternoon "yappy hour," with live music and drinks (for pet owners). "The Arts District is up and coming, it's new and it's very modern," said Cabrini Schnyder, co-owner of The Loftydog Academy and The Loftydog on Second Street. Also slated to open on South Hewitt Street this year is organic eatery Urth Caff». The Downtown version of the popular Westside establishment was scheduled to break ground Jan. 20. Meanwhile, the area's population is growing. The first phase of Barker Block, a 63-unit building at 510 S. Hewitt St., already houses residents. Thirty-two of the 179 condos at 530 S. Hewitt St. were recently released, while timing for sales of the remaining residences there has not been announced. The project's next phase, at 549 Molino St., is under construction, said a Kor spokeswoman. Some in the Arts District hope the newcomers at Barker Block will serve as a beacon for future businesses. "We need to make the Arts District a destination," said Brehm. "We need more amenities: a market, a cleaners, and just more places to gather and meet and walk to. It will only grow from here."

Contact Anna Scott at page 6, 1/21/2008
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