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City Buzz: Troubled times for Magnolia Park business district

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Photo: FLLewis / Media City G -- 3200 block of West Magnolia Blvd. in Magnolia Park Burbank July 2, 2018

Photo: FLLewis / Media City G — 3200 block of West Magnolia Blvd. in Magnolia Park Burbank July 2, 2018

Troubled times for Magnolia Park business district again. The sometimes quirky, sometimes funky, but definitely unique business sector stretches from North Clybourn Avenue to North Victory Boulevard on Magnolia Boulevard and West Chandler Boulevard to Clark Avenue on Hollywood Way. Much of the action is concentrated on Magnolia. The collection of vintage shops, eateries, one-of-a-kind emporiums, and small businesses on the boulevard has a certain appeal and sense of hip cool, which really cannot be explained. It just is. Nevertheless, the evolution from a sleepy boulevard to what it is today has not been easy.

Tenants facing huge rent hikes

The strip has been the site of burglaries, robberies, bitter fights over parking, and controversies. Now, reports of skyrocketing rents are adding to the woes of business owners and forcing some to shut their doors and move. Two popular attractions on the boulevard are gone along with their fans/shoppers: Creature Features last April and Pinup Girl Boutique last month. Geeky Teas & Games has a sign up saying it’s moving.

Photo: FLLewis / Media City G -- Moving banner hangs in front of Geeky Teas & Games 2120 West Magnolia Blvd. Burbank July 02, 2018

Photo: FLLewis / Media City G — Moving banner hangs in front of Geeky Teas & Games 2120 West Magnolia Blvd. Burbank July 02, 2018

Geeky Teas & Games owner and Burbank resident, Donna Ricci, says her rent in 2 1/2 years has jumped from $3,800 to $5,600 a month. Ricci considered re-locating to a vacant building on Magnolia Blvd.”We were going to move into where the Pinup Girl Boutique just vacated until we found out that the $4,400 a month they were paying would jump to $8,600 a month without so much as a new paint job.”

Photo: FLLewis / Media City G-- Former location of Pinup Girl Boutique 3606 West Magnolia Blvd. Burbank July 2, 2018

Photo: FLLewis / Media City G– Former location of Pinup Girl Boutique 3606 West Magnolia Blvd. Burbank July 2, 2018

Decline in walkable traffic

Another reason for the distress and anxiety among managers/owners of these shops, a serious drop-off in foot traffic/customers since the beginning of the year. After a robust 2017, many merchants find themselves taking in less than $100 on a lot of days. Some shops are closing early or not even opening up on certain days.

Photo: FLLewis / Media City G -- What Katie Did 3420 West Magnolia Blvd. Burbank July 5, 2018

Photo: FLLewis / Media City G — What Katie Did 3420 West Magnolia Blvd. Burbank July 5, 2018

Luckily, What Katie Did, an upscale vintage inspired lingerie boutique at 3420 Magnolia Blvd, has a strong online presence.  Manager, Hannah Thayer, readily admits last year at this time they were “wildly busy,” now, not so much.

Photo: FLLewis / Media City G -- Manager Hannah Thayer, What Katie Did, 3420 West Magnolia Blvd. Burbank July 5, 2018

Photo: FLLewis / Media City G — Manager Hannah Thayer, What Katie Did, 3420 West Magnolia Blvd. Burbank July 5, 2018

What happened to prompt the significant drop in walkable traffic on the boulevard? More importantly, how to get it back on the upswing.

Magnolia Park Merchants Association

The Magnolia Park Merchants Association should have been alarmed by the sharp decline in the district customers and cranked up its promotion and advertising. Well it didn’t, until, the “Save Magnolia Park” campaign came along (More on that later).

The MPMA is narrowly focused on a few events on the boulevard and frankly, since its founding in 2014, has not been able to connect with the majority of merchants on the issues which matter most to them. (Disclosure: I’m a co-owner of a Magnolia Park business. We paid $360 for annual membership dues in both 2016 and 2017 to the MPMA. ) The association admits “only 49 stores are members of the association out of the over 400 that exist in the Magnolia Park merchant district boundaries.” There must be a reason for such dismal participation.

The complaints

The complaints I have heard from both members and non-members about the MPMA range from a cliquish leadership, to poor management, to capricious policies, to a lack of transparency. In a desperate efforts to get members and money, MPMA  founder/president, Ashley Erikson, sent out this email on May 23, 2018, entitled “End of Magnolia Park.”

“Hello,
We are reaching out to all of the stores that we have contacts for in the Ladies Night Out perimeter area between Catalina and Hollywood Way. This event has been going and growing for over 8 years now, and we have worked hard to abide by city laws, apply for the right permits, raise enough money to cover funding for police and insurance, and at the same time keep it fun and successful.

The Magnolia Park Merchants Association Board of Directors would like to thank all of the stores who have joined the Association and helped fund our events, however, the Board has been feeling extremely disappointed by the majority of stores in this area that participate in the event but do not join as members of the Association to help fund it. Only 50% of the stores in the LNO area are members of the Association, and half of that number close for LNO or don’t actively participate. Other members are paying to be a part of an association and build a neighborhood while the other half open their doors for an association paid event and reap the benefits that other people pay into. We feel that we have been accommodating over the past few years and have adjusted our membership to be affordable and achievable for everyone.

Our annual Holiday in the Park event costs around $45,000 to put on and if we don’t have income coming in from membership, the Holiday in the Park Committee will be forced to open up booth spaces to businesses outside of Magnolia Park to make the funding needed to continue the event.

We fear that the lack of participation in the association will ultimately be the demise of Magnolia Park. Other than the board of directors, we witness the same 5 merchants attend our monthly merchants meetings. We have invited food trucks, offered helpful business tips, and opened the meeting to more of a conversation in hopes that we would see more merchants participate, but that has not been the case. Without participation and without members we fear there will be no funding for an association and in turn, our beloved community events will either be cancelled or moved elsewhere.

If these events are not important to you, we hope you will speak up so we can gauge if the events need to be discontinued in this area, and if they are important to you, we hope you choose to join as members in order to keep these events thriving.

Board of Directors,
Magnolia Park Merchants Association

Despite the threatening tone, the email did not create a rush to join by merchants. However,  it did manage to offend some dues paying members and LNO participants . Also, the email demonstrated the lack of transparency about finances.

On a gofundmepage , the MPMA claimed it got no funding from the City of Burbank in 2017. Also, nowhere in the May 23 email is funding from the city mentioned. However, Mary Hamzoian, Burbank’s Economic Development Manager, says the MPMA got approximately $30,000 from the city, which paid for the following services for the 2017/2018 fiscal year.

$13,000 – Holiday in the Park Street Closure
$1,200 – Holiday in the Park Clean-Up
$12,000 – 10 Months of Ladies Night Out Clean up
$4,000 – 2 months. of WHERE LA Magazine Full-Page Ads ($2,000 each)
$490.50 – new Magnolia Park Kiosk Signs installed

And there’s more. Hamzoian told Media City Groove:

“For FY 18/19 funding has been allocated for the Holiday in the Park Street closure, Holiday in the Park cleaning and the Ladies Night out monthly cleaning.”

On a new funding page , the association claims the event cost $50,000 to put on. Again, no mention that some of the cost is covered by the city. Also, MPMA is putting the squeeze on some dues paying members by demanding money upfront to be included in promotions classified as “fundraisers” for Holiday in the Park. An unsavory practice, which is pretty much guaranteed to reduce the membership ranks.

In terms of, Ladies and Gents Night Out, each food truck and mobile unit pays to park along Magnolia Blvd for the event. 10 months of the year, that money, according to the website for the event, goes to the association: “There is a mandatory $100.00 reservation fee requested from every food truck and a $55.00 reservation fee for mobile boutiques that participates in Ladies Night Out. This covers the cost of parking/police enforcement, parking signs, permits, trash clean up, and advertising costs.”

In June, there were at least 33 food trucks. Bottom line, the MPMA is getting monies, other than member dues, to help cover its costs for its events. This should be acknowledged and all funds accounted for.

What to do next

If the association is in real serious financial trouble, it should seek assistance from others on how to fund raise and get sponsors to come aboard. There are many non-profits and other organizations in Burbank, which have honed their skills in these areas.

Or perhaps, it’s time for a city agency to step in and take the lead on”Ladies and Gents Night Out” and “Holiday in the Park. ” To allow the two events to just disappear, would be a huge disappointment to thousands of fans. So that should not be an option.

“Save Magnolia Park” campaign

The new “Save Magnolia Park ” campaign is shaking up the town and getting a lot of buzz. The grassroots campaign was sparked by the recent closure of two popular shops and fears the charm of the Magnolia Park business district was under siege. A terrific informational short film was created and then viewed by a ton of folks. Articles in LA Weekly and Los Angeles Magazine spotlighted efforts to protect this business area.

Photo: FLLewis/ Media City G -- "Save Magnolia Park" town hall at Geeky Teas & Games 2120 West Magnolia Blvd. Burbank July 2, 2018

Photo: FLLewis/ Media City G — “Save Magnolia Park” town hall at Geeky Teas & Games 2120 West Magnolia Blvd. Burbank July 2, 2018

Town hall meeting

Earlier this month, on a hot July 2nd evening, two-to-three hundred people packed the parking lot and spilled out onto the sidewalk at “Geeky Teas & Games,” for a town hall meeting. Organizer, Konstantine Anthony, a Burbank Transportation Commissioner and former candidate for city council, moderated the meeting. Anthony pointed out early in the two-hour meeting that it was meant to “start the conversation” not finalize solutions.

Photo: FLLewis / Media City G -- Burbank Transportation Commissioner, Konstantine Anthony, was the moderator at the town hall meeting in Magnolia Park Burbank July 2, 2018

Photo: FLLewis / Media City G — Burbank Transportation Commissioner, Konstantine Anthony, was the moderator at the town hall meeting in Magnolia Park Burbank July 2, 2018

Folks signed up for committees to look into re-zoning Magnolia Park business district as a historic corridor, increasing the number of businesses that own their buildings, set aside space in new development projects for small businesses, and look for ways to correct the imbalance in landlord and tenant rent negotiations.

Larry Ross, owner of “Blast from the Past, ” 3117 West Magnolia Blvd, has been at his present location for almost three years, Also, Ross doesn’t pay rent, which he realizes puts him in an enviable position: ” We’re very, very fortunate. I don’t have a landlord. We own the building. (Applause) That doesn’t mean I don’t care about what’s going on in my neighborhood. If everything cool closes, nobody is coming just for my store. They come to see everybody. It’s a community thing.” Ross is right. It’s a community. All sorts of factions, tenants, landlords, property managers, residents, city officials,  need to come together to help the district thrive.

There is much potential in the “Save Magnolia Park” campaign. If the organizers can learn from the past mistakes of groups like the MPMA and the ill-fated Magnolia Park P-BID, they have a good chance at success.

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