When a merchant calls the Whittier Uptown Assn. with an earthquake-related question or problem, Executive Director Marilyn Neece can speak from experience.
Since the earthquake destroyed the association’s office Oct. 1, 1987, the staff has moved five times. First they set up shop in a back office of a nearby bank. Then the association moved to a bookstore, a plumbing shop and a trailer.
Last month, the association of 430 Uptown merchants acquired a permanent home in a recently opened senior citizen apartment complex.
The association’s earthquake-caused transience was difficult, Neece said, but it also provided valuable insight because the organization experienced the same problems as other businesses recovering from the disaster.
“Getting into the office really signifies getting out of the crisis mentality,” Neece said. “Now we can start building for the future.”
Earthquake damage forced the demolition of the building in which the association originally leased space, but not before six truckloads of files and furniture were recovered. Meanwhile, the association had to assist members with earthquake-related problems and organize its usual retail promotional activities.
Some association members had trouble finding the office because of the series of moves, Neece said. “We still have people stopping by at Haendiges Plumbing,” where the organization stayed for about six months last year.
In looking for a new office, Neece said she found a shortage of space and sharply increased lease prices. Earthquake-related demolitions resulted in a loss of about 239,000 square feet of space, and boosted costs from about 40 cents a square foot to about $1.35 a square foot, according to marketing studies of the Uptown area.
“Compared to what a lot of business owners had to do, our experience was not so bad,” Neece said.
Merchants More Unified
Although about 50 Uptown businesses either closed or moved from the area after the earthquake, Uptown Assn. President Larry Haendiges said the area’s remaining merchants have become more unified. “We have more active members now than ever before,” he said.
Neece and her assistant, Janet Crossman, are still settling into the new office on the ground floor of Chateau Whittier, a 200-unit senior citizen apartment complex at Philadelphia Street and Washington Avenue. There is no sign advertising the office overlooking Philadelphia and the walls are bare.
But despite the new surroundings, there are still reminders of why the association had to move. Posters advertising Uptown Assn. events are stored in a black metal file cabinet dented in the earthquake.
“We picked that up at an earthquake sale” held by a nearby office supply store that was going out of business, Haendiges said.