Perhaps no major street in our area except Wilshire Blvd. is undergoing more change these days than La Brea Ave. With the removal of older buildings, construction of new ones, the Metro Purple Line Extension construction along Wilshire, and a change in business mix from small mom-and-pop retailers to much more upscale boutiques and eateries, the street is definitely reinventing itself. But while the change is bringing some good things…other local treasures are being lost.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we told you about the demise of longtime neighborhood favorite Mo Better Burgers. This week we learned that another beloved local shop, Runway Boutique, 807 S. La Brea, which has been selling owner Fatima Dodson’s carefully curated collection of vintage, new and handmade clothing and accessories for 13 years, will also soon be closing.
“It was a hard decision,” Dodson told the Buzz a few days ago.
But Dodson says that both the street and the retail business are changing, and the kinds of mom-and-pop businesses that used to thrive in the neighborhood are now struggling for several reasons.
Second, as the street evolves, rents are going up. Dodson says her landlord raised her rent two years ago, and considered doing so again recently before opting not to. But she’s coming to the end of her current lease, and recognizes the trend.
And third, while the Purple Line subway may eventually bring more customers to the area, the 10-year construction project has so far mostly brought an increase in dust and traffic congestion, along with a severe reduction in places for customers to park. Most signficant was the loss of the parking lot at the former Bank of America at SW corner of Wilshire and La Brea, where many of Dodson’s customers used to leave their cars. When that lot was removed (the space is now part of Metro’s construction staging area), and much of the remaining street parking was taken over by valets for nearby restaurants, it left little to no parking for retail shoppers. And many of Dodson’s customers from elsewhere in the city started telling her they just couldn’t visit anymore. “It was already hard running a business,” she said, “and that made it harder.”
Also, Runway is just a bit too far south of the construction zone to be eligible for Metro’s Business Interruption Fund, which compensates small businesses along or adjacent to Wilshire for losses during the subway project. So the pressures on Dodson and other retailers have mounted. “A lot of us are just burnt out,” she said.
And the culmination of that burnout was her decision to close the cozy, colorful boutique, as explained in a note she sent out to customers and the community about a week ago:
“Life is full of endings, but every ending is a new beginning” — After 13 years Runway Boutique will start a new journey, a new purpose, a new work of love! I hope you will join us and ride this new experience with us…March 24th, 2018 will be our last day as a Brick & Mortar on La Brea Ave.
This was a hard decision and I can’t express how much I love you all for supporting my dream for so long it has meant the world to me. This is not the end of our relationship but a new experience that I hope you will embrace and love. More details to follow soon…but I will be spreading love worldwide and I can’t wait to see you there!”
To celebrate the business, both old and new incarnations, there will also be a big party – the Runway Boutique Last Soirée – from 2-9 p.m. on the 24th, celebrating “Runway’s 13 years of art, fashion, music and community.” (It’s free, but guests are urged to RSVP at the link above.)
And Dodson will also be holding a closeout sale, starting today, to help clear out the inventory of clothing and accessories, as well as fixtures…including mannequins, racks, displays, and furniture.
But despite the closing of her bricks-and-mortar store, Dodson says she’s definitely not giving up – she plans to change with the times, and to continue her business in other forms, including pop-ups at other local venues, such as farmers’ markets and flea markets. (She already has one such business – Head Wraps in the Park – so she is familiar with the more mobile territory.)
Dodson said that while storefront retail is becoming more difficult, she realized she can still work with her much-loved customers and vendors in other ways, and that there are advantages to being more mobile and bringing things closer to those who have had a hard time getting to her.
Also, although she’ll be without a local base, Dodson said she does plan to stay involved with the Miracle Mile business community, which she says has always been very supportive of her endeavors. “I love being here,” she says of the neighborhood, where she also grew up. In fact, she has plans to revive the Miracle Mile Small Business Strolls, which she originated several years ago to help people get to know the local businesses.
“This is the best neighborhood,” she said. “Everyone has opened the door for me. I love how this is such a community, and I will still be a part of it.”
It’s just hard not to be at least a bit nostalgic for the smaller, more personal version of the community that is slowly slipping away. “It was under the radar,” Dodson said, “But now everyone knows about it.”
In addition to the links above, you can get daily updates from Dodson and Runway Boutique on Instagram, @runwayboutiquela