Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Larchmont 2021 Community Conversation #3: Ideas Workshop

Participants in the Larchmont 2021 Ideas conversation on Monday, July 26.


On Monday, July 26, organizers of the Larchmont 2021 visioning group held the third of their three planned community conversations about the future of Larchmont Blvd.  The first session, held on June 28, addressed the future of retail businesses, and the second – on July 12 – looked at current “placemaking” trends and ideas that could be adapted for Larchmont.  This third session was a more wide-open ideas workshop, inviting participants to contribute both their concerns and their suggestions for the section of Larchmont Blvd. between 1st St. and Beverly Blvd.  (the stretch of Larchmont north of Beverly was also addressed, but not as fully).

As with the two previous sessions, this one was hosted by architect and urban planner John Kaliski, with support from three other Larchmont 2021 principals: Windsor Square resident Gary Gilbert, Larchmont Business Improvement District representative Heather Duffy Boylston, and Larchmont Buzz co-publisher Patricia Lombard.

Unlike the previous two sessions, there were no formal presentations from outside experts at this meeting.  Instead, it was a conversation among local residents for local residents, to start gauging levels of interest in various ideas that had been discussed so far, to solicit new ideas, and to help identify next steps for further action.  Or, as Kaliski put it during the evening’s introduction, “We are now in the middle of the beginning of the process” of re-imagining the street, with short-term, most-easily-achieved ideas taking center stage.  “We’re hoping this conversation will inspire more people to get involved at all levels,” said Kaliski.  And the goal is to develop a “working consensus” for short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals.



Kaliski began the discussion by reminding participants of the main themes that emerged in the previous two discussions.  For example, in the first meeting on retail issues, topics included rising rents, options for retail flexibility (e.g. encouraging more pop-up businesses), sprucing up the street and storefronts, and considering support for LA’s new Restaurant Beverage Program, which would make it easier for restaurants to obtain liquor licenses.



Recapping the June 28 discussion on placemaking, Kaliski reviewed several ideas for turning streets into “people first” spaces, including “parkets” and “pedlets,” making COVID-era innovations (such as outdoor dining) permanent, and layering street spaces for different kinds of uses (vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, retail/restaurant spaces, and more).



Next, Kaliski introduced two local merchants – Joanna Vernetti, co-owner of Vernetti restaurant, and Bert Deixler, owner of Chevalier’s Books, who provided their thoughts on how to best support our local businesses.



Speaking first, Vernetti said that, in her opinion, the best way to support Larchmont’s restaurants and retail businesses is to be as flexible as possible.  For example, she said, the city’s new Al Fresco outdoor dining options were instituted very quickly, but have “simply been a lifesaver for our business.”  And the second best support, Vernetti said, would be to keep our local storefronts filled – because the street is its own little “ecosystem,” and successful restaurants and businesses tend to breed more foot traffic and, thus, more successful restaurants and businesses.

Meanwhile, Deixler spoke about the value in unique local businesses, like Chevalier’s, which are run by local residents and not distant corporate owners.  He recounted his own history as a Chevalier’s customer who got to know the store’s former owner, who was interested in selling to someone she liked.  Deixler and his eventual business partner fell into that category, purchased the store, and continued its community-friendly mix of book sales, book-related events, and other community-focused events that aren’t necessarily book related…even after being forced to move to a new location by the new non-local owners of their former storefront.


The Current Landscape:  Space, Rent, and Landlord/Tenant Issues


Moving into a broader discussion of the current business landscape on Larchmont, including rising rents and other landlord/tenant issues, Boylston reported that there are currently 24 different property owners on Larchmont (25 if you count the city’s ownership of the Larchmont parking lot), while Larchmont Chronicle publisher John Welborne said there are a total of 75 tenant spaces, 31 of which are currently vacant.

Welborne and Boylston said the large number of landlords can sometimes make rent and lease negotiations tricky for individual businesses, who may have to deal with several different landlords and their different personalities and financial goals when looking for spaces and/or negotiating leases.   And this was confirmed by Vernetti and Deixler, who recounted very different experiences with their respective landlords recently — Vernetti reported that her landlord was quite willing to work with her business to weather the pandemic downturn…while Deixler said there was “no negotiating room” with Christina Development, the new-ish owner of the former Lipson building on the east side of Larchmont, where Chevalier’s Books used to be located (this is why Chevalier’s was forced to relocate, to another storefront across the street, at the end of last year).


Business Issues, Support, and Other Improvement Ideas


With the stage now set for a wider and more meandering discussion, Kaliski opened the meeting up to input from all participants, encouraging discussion of specific issues on the street, and asking for ideas the attendees would like to see or try on Larchmont Blvd.  The discussion covered a fairly robust list of topics, including:


Alcohol Sales

By tradition (though not law), Larchmont restaurants have always been limited to beer and wine permits, and have not historically found community support for permits to sell a full line of alcoholic beverages.  But several participants in this discussion expressed support for full liquor permits, and for the city’s new Restaurant Beverage Program, which could make it much easier for restaurants to obtain both beer and wine or full liquor permits.  Joining this chorus, Vernetti said that it would be “amazing” if our local restaurants could serve drinks other than beer and wine, because they operate on very small profit margins, and alcohol sales would provide a big boost to their bottom lines.


Neighborhood-Serving Businesses vs. Wider Appeal and Clientele

Whether Larchmont businesses should be more “neighborhood-serving” or appeal to a wider regional (or even tourist) clientele has been a decades-long debate, which continued at this discussion.  Currently, according to Vernetti, more than 50% if her customers are local residents, and Deixler said the same is true for Chevalier’s, although they also see some tourist traffic because the street is listed in several travel guidebooks as a “typical main street” in the middle of the city.  While some neighbors would like to bring back more service-related neighborhood stores (such as a hardware store and a grocery store), however, others now say they enjoy the more lively mix of food and beverage outlets that has developed in recent years, and which tends to appeal to more than just local residents.


Q Conditions

In addition to its commercial zoning, the south end of Larchmont Blvd. is also covered by an additional set of city regulations, known as “Q” Conditions, which limit the number of financial businesses and restaurants that can open on that portion of the Boulevard.  The rules were adopted in 1992, at the urging of local residents, because even then many many more traditional, service-oriented businesses were starting to disappear from the street and be replaced by an increasing number of real estate offices and restaurants.  Whether to keep, modify, or eliminate the “Q” conditions was also part of this brainstorming session, along with some discussion of what has always been the very uneven enforcement of the regulations.  (For example, as Kaliski explained, although the rules say there can be only 5-10 sit-down restaurants on the street (depending on the total linear feet of store frontage), the term “restaurant” has never been well defined…and has only become blurrier since COVID-19 and the adoption of the city’s new Al Fresco rules, which allow dining on sidewalks and in former street parking spaces.)


Business Mix

In addition to the Q conditions, the mix of businesses on Larchmont has also been, to some degree, determined in recent years by rising rents and how willing individual property owners are to negotiate with current and potential tenants.  Restaurants tend to attract more customers, and bring in more cash, so they can often afford higher rents than other kinds of businesses, such as independent retail stores.

Currently, according to Boylston, there are a mix of new and longer-term tenants on Larchmont, but rents and owners’ flexibility in negotiating rents tend to depend on how long a building’s owner has held the property.  Newer owners, she said, tend to have more debt attached to their investment, because they paid more for their buildings, so they need to charge higher rents to manage that debt.  Owners who bought their properties decades ago, she said, tend to have greater equity and less debt attached to their properties, so they may be in a better position to be flexible with their tenants.

In response to a question about whether the current vacancies on the street are due more to high rents or simply lack of interested tenants, Boylston said she doesn’t know, but that it will be interesting to see how the remodeling of the former Lipson building, into the more upscale Larchmont Mercantile, by new owner Christina Development, affects future rents on the street.

Finally, Steve Cohen, owner of Village Pizzeria, noted that even the older landlords need to be careful, because rents are rising faster than business revenues, and at some point, if the owners keep raising rents and businesses can’t raise their prices any more without driving away customers, more and more businesses will be forced out.  Also, Cohen disagreed with Vernetti’s statement about an increasing number of restaurants being good for those already on the street.  Instead, Cohen said, he thinks it will be dangerous for current businesses if too many similar businesses open nearby.  For example, he said, having more choices for pizza on the street would just be “looting our revenue.”



Participant Randy Skinner, who lives in Wisconsin but has relatives in the Larchmont area, described a successful pop-up retail program he was involved with in his area, which attracted a wide variety of new businesses during the time it ran.  Skinner said the program was managed by the local Chamber of Commerce, which reviewed potential applicants, awarded 3-month leases to those who qualified, with a bit of a break on rents, and helped the businesses with staging their temporary spaces.

Some meeting participants noted that there have been a few pop-up businesses on Larchmont recently (for example, in the old Pickett Fences space), but there has not been a coordinated pop-up program like Skinner described.  Several people suggested this might be both a good way for new businesses to test the waters on Larchmont, and a good way for landlords to keep their spaces occupied when they can’t find long-term tenants.  At the same time, however, Cohen noted that while pop-ups can be a good way for potential tenants to try out the street, they still won’t move in permanently if long-term rents are too high.


Parklets and Pedlets

Introduced in the second Larchmont 2021 discussion about placemaking, “parklets” are small sections of the sidewalk and/or adjacent street set aside for dining, gathering places, retail space or other uses…while “pedlets” route pedestrian traffic around sidewalk space that has now been converted to other kinds of uses.

Several attendees said they like Larchmont’s new street and sidewalk dining spaces (one version of parklets) which really enliven the street, and that they would like to see them continue into the future.  But others said the new dining spaces take away too many parking spaces and put diners too close to vehicle traffic, which can be both unpleasant and dangerous.

Deixler was one of the supporters of parklets, however, and reported that studies now show that taking away parking spaces for dining and other use results in a financial net gain for businesses.  Also, he said, because the street is now more lively, and there’s more foot traffic, especially at his location next door to Village Pizzeria, and his store now stays open an hour later on weekends.

Meanwhile, Kaliski reminded participants that not all parklets have to be used for dining – there are many things they can be used for – and Lombard noted that because the spaces are flexible, they can be used for different things at different times, depending on what is needed.

Cohen also commented, though, that – as with the Q conditions – outdoor dining permits have not been fairly or uniformly enforced by the city, and said he would like to see a more level playing field, with all businesses required to go through the same permitting process for outdoor dining.

Finally, participant Lorraine Wild said that while she generally likes the idea of parklets, the designs of those on Larchmont should be upgraded to include landscaping, trees, and other more attractive elements.  And Kaliski agreed, noting that parklets are still a new concept for Los Angeles, and we still have to figure out how to better manage them.  “It’s the Wild West out there now,” he said.


Sprucing Up

Cohen, in particular, spoke at length about the need for better maintenance on Larchmont, especially for businesses.  He said the street should be cleaner, businesses should have more dumpsters, and the dumpsters should be locked to keep scavengers out.  Also, he noted, the twice-weekly farmers market does not have trash receptacles or trash service of its own, so it uses the trash containers of nearby businesses, which reduces their capacity.  And Cohen complained, too, that neither businesses nor individuals seem to care enough about this issue, reporting that the last volunteer cleanup day he organized attracted only three volunteers.  Cohen said both Larchmont businesses and the city need to make a greater effort to sweep  up, fix broken sidewalks, and maintain tree wells to prevent falls and lawsuits.

In response to Cohen’s remarks, Boylston agreed that trash service, currently handled by the BID alone, is an issue.  In fact, she said, the BID already devotes the majority of its annual budget to trash and street cleaning, and can’t afford much more…which means individual businesses do have to take some responsibility for cleaning the areas in front of their own stores.

Realtor Anne Loveland asked if all businesses pay equally for trash service, regardless of the amount of trash they generate, and Boylston explained that trash fees are currently based on storefront footage – so businesses in larger businesses pay more than those in smaller businesses.  Also, on the topic of trees and tree wells, Boylston reported that the ficus trees on Larchmont need maintenance, too – they have very aggressive roots that get into pipes (requiring expensive cleanouts every three months or so) and lift sidewalks, causing trip hazards and lawsuits when someone falls and gets injured.



Several people mentioned making the street friendlier for bicycles and bike riders, and Larchmont Village resident Lindsay Sturman suggested that bike lanes could be added to neighborhood streets to make it safer to bike to Larchmont.  She also suggested that such lanes could easily be tested before any permanent installations by outlining them with temporary paint.  And another attendee suggested using vacant storefronts for bike valet/parking services, as she has seen in London.


Street Furniture

Several people suggested that Larchmont needs more benches, and Kaliski quoted well known urban planner William Whyte, who famously advocated for chairs and other kinds of seating in public spaces.  One resident suggested solving two problems at once by offering the opportunity for private donors to fund memorial benches along the street, with additional funds from the project being used for street cleaning and maintenance.  (Which prompted Lombard to note that there is already one such bench on Larchmont, memorializing the donor’s two dogs.)


Street Closures

As was suggested at the previous Larchmont 2021 conversation, Lombard brought up the idea of more frequently closing the entire section of Larchmont Blvd. to vehicle traffic – perhaps once a month or once a quarter, instead of just annually for the Larchmont Family Fair, as has been done in the past.  This prompted some discussion of how many closures would be enough or too much, and whether nearby homeowners would complain about additional traffic and parking on their streets when Larchmont is closed.  Surprisingly, however, in addition to a few people who did say parking might be an issue (especially since it’s already tight on many local streets), at least one neighbor, Chris Rose, who lives on Lucerne Blvd. just west of Larchmont, said she would be happy to live with some additional traffic occasionally (as long as LAPD is willing to enforce speed limits), if it helps Larchmont businesses to thrive.


North of Beverly

Several participants in the discussion asked about the portion of Larchmont north of Beverly, up to Melrose Ave., why it differs so much in character from the southern portion of the Boulevard, and what kinds of improvements might be made there.

Welborne explained that the special Q conditions regarding restaurants and financial institutions apply only south of Beverly, so that means there are actually a lot of interesting development opportunities north of Beverly.  Also, he explained, while the portion of Larchmont between 1st St. and Beverly Blvd. was developed originally as commercial space, the portion between Beverly and Melrose was originally developed as a residential neighborhood, a very different kind of use, and one which is still visible in the original houses (now mostly home to small businesses) and driveways that remain along that section of the street.

But Kaliski further explained that the old residential section north of Beverly presents development challenges of its own.  For example, he said, because of the frequent curb cuts for the driveways on that part of the street, it would be hard to switch to diagonal parking there, as there is on the southern part of the Blvd.

However, that doesn’t mean certain new uses can’t be considered.  For example, Welborne suggested that the Larchmont Farmers Market, which has long sought more space, might be able to expand to the northern section of Larchmont…while others suggested it might also be a good place to add more parking, so fewer cars would have to park on Larchmont south of Beverly.


More Visual Suggestions

Finally, toward the end of the discussion, Kaliski introduced some renderings from stakeholder Paul Nankivell, who took pictures of some red curb areas on Larchmont where street space seems underused, and matched them with drawings of new parklets that could fit into each space.  The opportunities included the following ideas for gathering spots:




Nankivell also suggested some potential mural locations to brighten the street:



And noted that the Boulevard could borrow a “gateway” concept from the Venice Beach neighborhood:



At the end of the discussion, Kaliski thanked all the participants and said he had collected 14 very specific improvement ideas for Larchmont, while Gilbert said the Larchmont 2021 organizers would next create a survey to allow others to contribute their thoughts as well.  Then, he said, they will also reach out to other local groups such as the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council and adjacent neighborhood associations, to seek input and consensus on some of the suggestions.

In the meantime, Kaliski invited anyone with questions or comments to submit them to Lombard at [email protected].



Finally, for those who missed any of the three Larchmont 2021 conversations, and would like to catch up on the discussions, recordings of all three events are now available on YouTube:

June 28 discussion on the future of retail:

July 12 discussion on placemaking:

July 26 idea workshop:


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Latest Articles

.printfriendly { padding: 0 0 60px 50px; }