TWO SHUT DOWN IN MELROSE HEIGHTS
Byline: Kristin Young
LOS ANGELES — Is Melrose Heights already claiming its first casualties?
Two stores are reacting to less-than-favorable foot traffic in the trendy shopping area here: one is throwing in the towel altogether, while the other is reportedly shutting down for a renovation in an effort to lure more shoppers.
Anthony Franco, the couture and custom women’s designer, shuttered his boutique of the same name at 7966 Melrose Avenue less than six months after the 3,000-square-foot shop first opened.
Malia Mills, a New York-based swimwear store nearby, has temporarily closed its 700-square-foot shop.
Melrose Heights has generated more buzz in recent years than any other Los Angeles shopping neighborhood. About a half dozen stores moved there in recent months, including London lingerie-maker Agent Provocateur, Italian streetwear firm Fornarina and Paris-based Ventilo.
But retailers have also been buzzing that traffic is not all it could be and the recently formed Melrose Heights Merchants Association has undertaken efforts to boost visits with street banners, fashion events, street parties and other promotions.
Those efforts, a few retailers believe, have had little effect.
“The area is not picking up,” Franco said, noting he had an option to choose to get out of his lease in the first six months.
“With the rent I pay and with my overhead, it ends up being $18,000 a month. I really need to look out for myself before I dig a big hole.”
The designer said the store generally had between three and 12 customers a day. Despite the light traffic, Franco said he had been breaking even every month because of his strong custom clientele.
But he wanted more.
“This area is not going to hit for at least another year,” he speculated. “I don’t have another year. In a year, I want to be huge.”
Franco said he is not going out of business, just taking time off to focus on his custom clients during awards season. Then he plans to scout for another retail location on nearby La Brea Avenue near First Street.
“The rent there is about a third of what I was paying [on Melrose Heights],” said Franco. He hopes to open the other space by March.
Malia Mills has also taken a magnifying glass to its sales in the year since the boutique opened. Following research and consumer surveys, the swimmaker identified ways to improve the store and sales. Renovations were in order.
The store will add more window lighting fixtures and tweak the signage.
“You don’t have a lot of walk-by traffic in L.A., so you have to communicate in ways that someone in a car would understand you,” said owner Malia Mills. “Sometimes you want to be subtle and you don’t want to scream. But if you have to yell louder because people are in their cars going by much quicker than somebody on foot, then that’s what you’ve got to do.”
Mills declined to disclose the cost of the renovations that are expected to be completed by April. There are no plans to close the store and she is hopeful the area will pick up.
“Foot traffic is slow but we have high hopes for the store in L.A.,” she said, comparing the area to Manhattan’s hip shopping district NoLIta. “It’s doing OK — but we think there’s a much greater opportunity here. The only reason we’re not going gangbusters is people don’t know we’re here. The renovations will help.”