Anyone who’s walked on Larchmont Blvd. has noticed changes taking place on the street. Our little neighborhood street has been through a lot over the last year. The stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic hit the street hard. The owner of Pickett Fences clothing store, a long time fixture of Larchmont Boulevard, blamed the pandemic for its closure after more than 25 years on the street. Three store fronts were damaged when looters took advantage of the chaos created by a weekend of racial justice protests last May. One damaged store, Blends sneakers, never reopened. In December, the new owners of the former Lipson Building completed their process of emptying the building of tenants. They boarded up the 13 storefronts and began construction, taking all the parking spaces in front for construction activity.
Some of these changes are part of the new reality of challenges facing brick-and-mortar retailers around the world. Rents are higher and the buildings are worth more, even when they are empty. Larchmont property owners have benefited from the rising property values in the surrounding neighborhoods. So what’s the future of Larchmont?
Recently, a small group of concerned residents and stakeholders began talking about the future of the street and the changes brought on by the pandemic. Should we make some of those changes permanent, like the removal of parking for dining in the street? How can we attract more locally based retailers? What kind of future do we want for the street, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year? What can we learn from other retail streets in the city and around the country dealing with similar challenges?
To answer those questions, a small organizing committee was formed. It includes this writer, who also serves as a member of the Larchmont Boulevard Association, architect and urban planner John Kaliski, a resident of Windsor Village, Gary Gilbert, a writer, longtime Windsor Square resident, and accidental activist who worked to preserve the Sunday Larchmont Farmers Market when it appeared threatened by a proposal for a small playground in its public parking lot, and Heather Duffy Boylston, a longtime resident of Larchmont Village, a founder of Larchmont Charter School, and the executive director of the Larchmont Village Business Improvement District.
This group has now organized a series of community conversations we are calling “Larchmont 2021.” With the support of local neighborhood leaders, we invite interested residents and stakeholders to take a look at what’s going on with similar retail streets both around the city and around the country, and explore ways we can enhance Larchmont Blvd. Our objective is to learn more about the market trends and principles that define great neighborhood-scale shopping streets, to see what we can apply to Larchmont.
The first conversation, titled “Main Street Retail” is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at 7:00 p.m. We are convening online, to make it easier for as many people as possible to participate, including our panelists! We plan to start with a short review of the history of our street, followed by an overview of the “Q” Conditions from John Kaliski. (“Q” conditions are special zoning code regulations that govern specific business uses on the street.) Following that introduction, Kaliski will conduct a facilitated conversation with Rob York, a real estate consultant who specializes in retail planning and market analysis, with extensive experience in Los Angeles, including Westwood Village. York’s expertise has provided him a unique lens to view and comment upon the means and methods to optimize the place of a neighborhood shopping street. Andrew Thomas, Executive Director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association (BID) will also be participating. Thomas has extensive experience with city regulations. Following the presentations, we expect to have a robust question and answer session.
The second conversation titled “Main Street Placemaking,” on July 12, 2021 at 7 p.m., will also be held online. We are pleased to have Howard Blackson and Lindsey Wallace, both experts in placemaking strategies. Blackson is an urban designer in both the private and public sector, with a background in neighborhood development and advocacy. His experience is as an urban design educator who has worked throughout Southern California and in particular San Diego. Lindsay Wallace serves as Director of Strategic Projects and Design Services for Main Street America Institute, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The mission of Main Street America is to bring economic vitality to neighborhoods while celebrating their historic character while bringing communities together. Wallace is an expert in placemaking initiatives and content.
Following the first two sessions, our third conversation will be a Community Listening Session, on July 26, 2021 at 7 p.m., online. Here’s your chance to hear from key neighborhood stakeholders in a facilitated conversation building on our two previous listening sessions, and to participate if you’d like to be heard
All the sessions are open to the public and will be recorded. We will also share a report on the working consensus derived from the learning and listening session including recommendations for next steps. In addition, we will post pertinent material and interviews with retail and placemaking experts on the website we created, Larchmont2021.com, where you can get updates and register to attend the conversations.
There’s reason to be optimistic about the future of Larchmont. Through it all, Larchmont’s small business owners have tried to stay open and keep positive. Neighbors rallied around Chevalier’s Books, which moved across the stree, and Landis Gifts and Stationery, which moved up the block. Others have helped local restaurants build the outdoor dining platforms now permitted through the City’s Al Fresco Dining program. The Larchmont Farmers Market now comes to the street on Wednesday as well as Sunday.
As publishers of local news, we have been reporting on the comings and goings of local businesses for the last ten years, (Yes, the Larchmont Buzz will celebrate its 10th anniversary in July — more about that later!) We are honored to be part of this conversation and pledge to continue to keep you informed.