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Rising rents driving businesses out of Magnolia Park, owners say

The specter of gentrification has landed in Magnolia Park, pitting a grass-roots effort to save niche and eclectic local businesses from shuttering because of rising rents against property owners who say they can’t control the market.

More than 210 Burbank residents, business owners, city officials and allies — looking as diverse as the area they were supporting — gathered in a parking lot outside a Magnolia Park business on Monday to attend a town-hall-style event in the name of “saving” the one-of-their kind stores in the commercial corridor.

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“There is a place for individuality here,” said Del Howison, co-owner of all-things-horror shop Dark Delicacies. “All the mom-and-pop shops created it. The landlords did not create it.”

Howison, who opened the shop with his wife, Sue, nine years ago, said if the stores go away, so will the unique charm — and the business activity it brings.

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He said he thinks he’ll be sent packing when his rent comes up for renewal in May.

The owner of Geeky Teas, where the meeting was held outside, had already hung a sign announcing the business was moving.

However, Donna Ricci, owner of the cat-rescue business that also sells board games, tea and geeky items, doesn’t know where she’ll go yet.

Monthly rent was $3,800 when Ricci moved into the space at 2120 W. Magnolia Blvd. 2 1/2 years ago. It’s now $5,600, she said.

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“It hurts,” Ricci said. “I don’t want to move. It took me a long time to paint this Sherlock [Holmes] wall.”

She added, “I don’t think [my landlords] are malicious people, but I do think they’re not in touch with the situation.”

Ricci’s landlord declined to comment.

Marc Kaye, a Realtor for the empty space that housed the recently shuttered Pinup Girl Boutique, said that he’s actually charging below-market rates.

“I’m on the same side as they are. I like Magnolia Park and its character,” Kaye said. “But you have people shooting from the hip, who don’t know real estate.”

Area property manager Brian Fagan said he hasn’t raised rent on his tenants in six years, but agreed that the rents are reasonable relative to other communities in Los Angeles.

If they can’t afford the rent, “they should move to other communities, if they don’t value the location by the [entertainment] studios,” Fagan said.

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The neighborhood concern about the shopping district became a citywide rallying cry when local filmmaker Andrew Kasch recently made a six-minute documentary urging viewers to follow the title of the short film and “Save Magnolia Park.”

The documentary, featuring local business owners such as Howison, Ricci and “Gremlins” director Joe Dante, garnered more than 363,000 views on Facebook and ended up on feeds in high places, including comedian Patton Oswalt’s Twitter account.

Exposure drove a standing-room-only crowd to the meeting Monday, where event co-organizer Konstantine Anthony presented a list of strategies to change the playing field of the market.

Ideas discussed included changing zoning laws to be friendlier to local businesses, forming cooperatives to broaden ownership, recognizing the district as a historic landmark and encouraging the city to buy commercial properties to rent back to mom-and-pop stores.

Responding to an attendee that called the ideas “government and slow,” Anthony — a former Burbank City Council candidate and member of the city’s Transportation Commission — agreed they were “long-term solutions to long-term problems.”

Nothing would be saved that night, Anthony said at the beginning of the meeting. Instead, it was the beginning of a process, he said.

Kaye said the push to impinge on the free market was misguided — a concern echoed by Fagan.

“That cuts two ways, rezoning,” Kaye said. “You get more government involved, and it can affect [the business owners’] buildings.”

During the town hall meeting, Jennifer Hardaway, owner of perfume store Phoebe Peacock, asked if there were any building owners present to share their perspectives.

No one in the audience raised their hand or spoke.

“[Hardaway is] absolutely right, and you’ll notice that people who just own property and don’t run the business are not here,” Anthony said. “The reason we’re doing this is to get their attention.”

Fagan, property manager of 3510-3516 Magnolia Blvd., said he was not open to meeting with the group that’s banded under the hashtag campaign #savemagnoliapark.

“When this group of business owners is comfortable putting controls on the value of their home, I’m happy to have a dialogue,” he said.

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