Rents are skyrocketing on Abbot Kinney but that’s not stopping the stampede of retailers vying for real estate on the street even as some wave good-bye.
“I was coming here for 15 years. It was a very ho-hum street [before] — a couple of coffee shops that you’d visit [and] a pizza shop. Now it’s a hub,” said Mark Wiesmayr, creative director at Los Angeles-based women’s and children’s clothing maker Sundry.
The company recently opened the doors to its first pop-up store, which it transformed into something akin to what Wiesmayr described as a French boathouse.
“We didn’t want to make a big statement being on Melrose [Avenue] or Beverly [Boulevard] or La Brea [Avenue]. Not yet,” Wiesmayr said. “This is a great start.”
Sundry, which makes the majority of its clothing in downtown Los Angeles, is sold in about 500 stores in the U.S. including Madison, Fred Segal and Planet Blue.
The store was originally expected to stay open until August, but the company’s now in talks to extend its time on the street, according to founder Matt Leblan.
“The store is really doing well,” Leblan said. “It’s busy and there’s been [a] really amazing response.”
The street’s popularity has pushed average retail rents to around $15 to $16 a square foot a month, according to Justin Schultz, first vice president at CBRE. That’s more than doubled from around $6 to $7 a square foot three or four years ago. Rents really began to heat up after the recession with tech companies coming to the area and more media attention on the street.
But Abbot Kinney’s reached a tipping point and the street’s original stock of local designers and retailers has been countered in more recent years with big-name brands such as Warby Parker, Rag & Bone and Toms occupying space there.
Abbot Kinney vets Liseanne Frankfurt, Pamela Barish and Lisa Bush moved off the street earlier this year to nearby Main Street. It’s a street that’s been undervalued for some time, but is on the up, Schultz said. Rising rents weren’t what pushed the three off the street, but rather a new strategy to operate their shops under the brand III Luxury Collective. The three told WWD earlier this year they had no problem with Abbot Kinney, but when the real estate became available to relocate in three separate spaces right next to one another, it made sense to move.
Other departures from Abbot Kinney this year include custom hatmaker Nick Fouquet, who is now on Lincoln Boulevard.
“The story on Abbot Kinney was you had a street that had these wonderful, local retail boutiques and that was the real intrigue,” Schultz said. “Now rents have gone so high that the only retailers that can afford to be on Abbot Kinney are these national brands. I think you’re kind of at the crossroads.”
It’s a toss up as to what direction the street will take. Rents on Abbot Kinney have peaked and may even creep back down and the sign of that is greater real estate availability, Schultz said.
“The opportunities are more prevalent now than they’ve been in the past year,” he said. “The reason for that is that most retailers need to make money to be able to survive on the street. This is not Rodeo Drive….The rents are getting to a point where they’re just too high to make sense.”
The change of the street’s makeup is a natural progression that takes place in any area that becomes popular, Sundry’s Wiesmayr said.
“It’s still a really important street for culture and fashion and how it’s all moving at the moment,” he said.
What made Abbot Kinney the street it is today still exists, and it still provides an environment for business owners to experiment, whether with their business models or product.
Venice Heights Men’s Clothing & Artist Gallery, for example, recently changed its name from Prize of Venice to offer a more gallerylike experience amid the men’s wear labels it sells.
One of the reasons Culver City, Calif.-based e-tailer MeUndies decided to test Abbot Kinney for its first pop-up was because of the “family and community of Venice,” said Greg Fass, who handles marketing and public relations at the company.
MeUndies, which sells underwear, socks and other basics, will wrap its stint on the street at the end of the month, at which time it will look to open new pop-up shops in West Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles.
Although Vipe, a luxury activewear brand from the Netherlands, did well on Abbot Kinney, it did not shop for permanent space once the pop-up space it shared with Mott 50 ran its course at the end of April. The company instead opted to sell its product at another retailer on the street to cater to the new clientele the brand picked up in the area.
The company eventually wants brick-and-mortar, but it’s still trying to better understand the U.S.’ luxury activewear segment through additional temporary stores in other markets, according to Anna Ramirez, one of the company’s founders.
“We considered expanding the lease, however, I spoke to some retail consultants and they said Aspen was the best move because we’re going to get so many people from different zip codes,” she said. “We believe we will have a store in California; it’s just too soon.”
Happy Socks had no problem pulling the trigger on permanent space. The Swedish socks and underwear company hopes to open the doors to its permanent store on Abbot Kinney within the next few weeks. It will be the company’s first West Coast outpost.
The street’s environment and walkability were a draw, but so was its international reach, said Happy Socks chief executive officer and cofounder Mikael Soderlindh.
“Being a European person, it’s very attractive to us. It’s somewhere you walk and get inspired,” Soderlindh said. “It’s essential for us to find these key image locations in key fashion cities.”