On any given day, the crowd of shoppers lined up in front of the Supreme store on Fairfax Avenue means plenty of business for the rest of the dozen or so retailers up and down the busy street that has become so synonymous with L.A.’s streetwear culture that there is an animated TV series named after it.
A full two blocks of the Los Angeles thoroughfare are crammed with popular streetwear brands including The Hundreds, Diamond Supply Co., Aape, Flight Club, Huf, Ripndip, Grail, Mitchell & Ness, Brain Dead Studios and SoleStage.
When tourists, resellers and loyal followers queue up on the sidewalk every Thursday for Supreme’s weekly new merchandise drop, they often wander off to other retail outposts on the street once known as the Bagel Belt for its traditional delis, bakeries, kosher grocery stores and bookstores catering to the Jewish community.
There is still a handful of Jewish businesses that have survived the streetwear wave. The historic Canter’s Deli, opened in 1948, is an anchor. The Diamond Bakery, serving challah, bagels and rugelach since 1946, does brisk business, and Sami’s Grocery Market, opened in 1982, is popular for its kosher products.
But streetwear began to take over the scene as soon as Supreme arrived in 2004. To follow were other youth-centric stores such as Flight Club, a sneaker and streetwear hangout that came on board in 2006 and The Hundreds, which landed in the area in 2007.
The vibe attracted Heaven by Marc Jacobs to open a temporary store on Fairfax Avenue in April 2021. It is now a permanent venue showcasing the line catering to customers looking for more street-focused Marc Jacobs merchandise at affordable price points.
The youth-centered location was one of the reasons Savage x Fenty chose Fairfax Avenue to set up a recent three-day pop-up shop two doors down from Supreme to sell its limited-edition Game Day collection ahead of the Super Bowl on Feb. 12. Entertainer Rihanna, who is the label’s chief executive officer, will headline the halftime performance.
“This is definitely a streetwear destination,” said Tanya Sheikh, who recently opened a pop-up women’s clothing store called Based on a Story inside a space once filled by a streetwear store that left Fairfax Avenue last fall. “Eighty percent of the people who come in here have Supreme shopping bags. They bring in a lot of customers.”
That may soon change. A little more than two years ago, the white-hot luxury streetwear label Supreme, founded by James Jebbia in 1994, was acquired by VF Corp. for $2.1 billion. The multibillion-dollar corporation, whose collection of brands include The North Face, Timberland, Vans and Dickies, has plans to expand the streetwear brand’s revenues, which last year totaled $561 million.
Part of that plan involves a bigger L.A. store. In a few weeks, the modest Supreme store on Fairfax Avenue will move to a much larger location two miles away at 8801 West Sunset Boulevard. It will be housed in the former Tower Records building, which for years sat empty. At 8,660 square feet, the boxy building is almost twice the size of the current store.
The question now is whether Supreme’s move will change the street as much as it did when it moved to Fairfax Avenue nearly 20 years ago.
“I feel Fairfax is more for Supreme, and the other stores are back up,” said Alex Gonzalez, who works at Diamond Supply Co. He believes Fairfax will see a decline in business after Supreme departs.
Armani Cooper, a sales associate at The Hundreds, believes the street is definitely changing but not dead. “With Supreme leaving it won’t be as busy, but I feel people will still come in, even if it is to look at our big mastodon statue,” he said, referring to the large sculpture that stands in the middle of the store.
Some streetwear employees look forward to Supreme’s departure, taking the weekly madness of merchandise drops and the heavy phalanx of security guards with it. “Maybe the street will be cleaner. Every time Supreme has a drop, there is a big line, and they don’t clean up the trash left behind,” said Tyler Johnson, a Diamond Supply Co. employee who has worked at the store for eight years, of the crowds that sometimes camp out in lawn chairs overnight.
Even before Supreme’s decision to relocate, the street suffered some major setbacks. When demonstrators in 2020 marched through L.A. protesting the murder of George Floyd, several retailers up and down Fairfax Avenue, including The Hundreds, were hit hard with windows smashed and merchandise stolen.
Flight Club had to close its doors for two years until it revamped the interior and reopened last August.
Moon Moronta, the owner of Apt. 4B, a streetwear store that arrived in 2015, believes the civil unrest and the pandemic put a damper on the avenue. “COVID[-19] and the riots started to break things apart,” he said, noting those events led to his decision to move his store to The Row DTLA near downtown Los Angeles.
Last summer, Crooks & Castles, on Fairfax since 2013, closed its doors to concentrate on e-commerce sales.
Pink Dolphin Clothing packed up in 2020 after eight years on the street. “Since the pandemic, the Fairfax streetwear shopping culture has just not been the same,” said Cena Barhaghi, cofounder and creative director of Pink Dolphin, which now sells its merchandise online and at pop-up stores around the country. “Lots of stores on Fairfax moved or did not reopen post-pandemic.”
Since the pandemic, pedestrian traffic on Fairfax Avenue has declined. One sales associate at Aape, the streetwear diffusion line for Japanese label Bape, remembers the days when both sides of the thoroughfare were filled with customers. Now about half that number show up.
Even Supreme is seeing fewer customers. One employee at the store, asking not to be identified, said there were as many as 2,200 customers a day looking at merchandise before the pandemic. That has dwindled to about 1,000 on a good day.
Many retailers feel the streetwear stretch will eventually turn into restaurant row. That is already starting to happen. They point to the empty storefronts across the street from Supreme that many streetwear brands left during the pandemic, creating a current 30 percent vacancy rate.
The surviving businesses on the east side of the street are mostly eateries, including Jon & Vinny’s, Badmaash, Cofax, Sweet Chick and Prime Pizza. To survive the pandemic, many of these small restaurants erected tall plywood panels to set up outdoor sidewalk dining spots. The plywood panels make it more difficult for shoppers on the popular west side of the street to view the few surviving retailers.
But with retail rents at $48 to $72 a square foot per year compared to $50 to $80 on higher-end L.A. shopping streets, Fairfax Avenue is still an affordable place to be. It doesn’t hurt business that there is a popular flea market selling handicrafts and vintage items every Sunday in the Fairfax High School parking lot a few blocks away.
New businesses are starting to sign leases on the east side. A Van Leeuwen Ice Cream store soon will be taking over the space once occupied by Pink Dolphin. A café is planned for what used to be the Taco Vega eatery, which closed early last year. And Capanova, a hat company, has signed a lease for the space where the streetwear brand FourTwoFour was located, said Jaysen Chiaramonte, a licensed sales agent with Kennedy Wilson Properties who handled two of the leases.
“The truth of the matter is we see this side of the street evolving from being very streetwear dependent to a food centric area,” Chiaramonte said. “But I think some of the streetwear stores that have popped up in recent years are still garnering interest. People are not just coming for Supreme. You don’t have this kind of hyper-focused retail in any other part of the city.”