MONTANA AVENUE — There’s a resurgence taking place at one of the high-end shopping districts on the Westside where the lease signs are disappearing from the windows and the credit cards are reappearing.
Following a challenging year during which more than 30 businesses — or 15 percent of the total merchants on Montana Avenue — left due to a combination of high rents and slow patronage, there’s some life coming back to the street of high-end boutiques and mom and pop shops.
Approximately 15 commercial leases have been signed since the summer, bringing in a new maternity store, a clothing boutique, restaurant and children’s art studio.
The list also includes returning business owners who are making another go at Montana Avenue, such as Rachel Ashwell, who opened a new furniture store in the same space where she started Shabby Chic more than 20 years ago. The new store, Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture, opened on Sept. 12.
Chuck Dembo, a partner with real estate firm Dembo & Associates, said there’s momentum building on the street.
“I think it’s a result of things getting better overall,” Dembo, whose firm signed six leases recently, said. “We’re not dropping like we were at the beginning of the year.”
He estimates that the vacancies have dropped down to about 10.
“We’re still not out of the woods,” he said. “We’re not back to where we were, but we’re on the right track.”
Amy Bright and Natasha Koudsi chose Montana Avenue to open their first clothing boutique — 2 Chix Maternity and Baby in the 1400 block — in August despite hearing about the increasing vacancies, believing that businesses would come back.
“We felt that if we were one of the first to come in when the economy was on the decline, then maybe others would follow suit,” Bright said. “It seems as though it’s been happening.”
The women for the past five years operated their clothing business on the Internet from an office in West Los Angeles and decided to expand it to a retail store earlier this year. They chose Montana feeling that it’s mother-friendly.
“It’s really easy to navigate and really a calm environment,” Bright said.
She added that there was a need for a maternity and children’s clothing store on Montana after Babystyle went bankrupt.
Business has been strong since the Aug. 20 opening.
“Right now it’s been mostly word of mouth and walk in traffic,” she said. “It’s been wonderful.”
Erika Mourelo, the owner of clothing boutique Aphrodite in the 1200 block of Montana, credits the success of her new business to its lower price points, which she said ranges from $20 to $140 for high-end quality.
She worked for eight years on Montana at various boutiques, deciding to open a business with partner Cherisse Morgan, catering to women who are used to luxury but can’t afford it because of the recession.
“I saw (stores) closing down everywhere and didn’t open earlier in the year,” she said. “This time around I thought it was a moment to strike.”
Mark Wain, the owner of Caffe Luxxe and chairman of the Montana Avenue Merchants Association, said that landlords are becoming more amenable to their tenants’ needs, lowering rent to retain existing leases.
Several tenants have been able to secure rent abatements or decreases. But rent overall has decreased on Montana, going from an average of $7 to $8 a square foot down to $6 currently.
“I really think that the worst is over and we’re coming across to the other side,” Wain said.