Empty storefronts, open questions at Montrose Shopping Park

The family restaurant Rocky Cola has been closed for some time now, on Honolulu Ave. in Montrose on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

While working at Once Upon a Time bookstore in Montrose, there’s a question employee Romy Griepp hears every day.

Patrons ask whether or not she knows what’s going on with the two longtime vacant storefronts nearby, located at 2200 and 2201 Honolulu Ave. Both sit on either side of the entrance to the Montrose Shopping Park.

Griepp, who has worked at the bookstore for more than a year, gives the same reply.

“My answer is always, ‘I have no idea,’” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “That question is usually a point of conversation (with customers).”

It’s a topic that not only customers, but Griepp and other merchants in the Montrose Shopping Park, have pondered.

Andre Ordubegian, president of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn. board, has heard similar complaints from merchants in the area.

The doors at Rocky Cola Café closed almost two years ago. Since then, word of a restaurant called Bluejeans, overseen by Jeff Williams who also owns Black Cow Café and Jax Bar & Grill in downtown Glendale, has yet to open. For now, the location’s windows remain covered with thin paper sheets.

During the last two weeks, the Glendale News-Press has reached out to Williams several times for comment, but he could not be reached.

Across the street, Benitoite is expected to open at the former location of cupcake shop Polkatots by February under owner Armen Rostomian. The Crescenta Valley High School graduate leased the location in August 2013. He cited “personal reasons,” on which he didn’t elaborate, as an explanation for the delay in opening the restaurant, which is expected to feature fresh ingredients to create a variety of cuisines including American, Asian, Spanish and Italian dishes.

“And I wanted to have this done my way. It’s not that anyone slowed me down,” Rostomian said. “I wanted to make sure this comes out perfect. Everything you’ll see in there will be brand new.”

For now, passersby may notice a new look on the windows of both store fronts. At its December meeting, the shopping park association board unanimously voted to allocate $1,500 for an artist to create holiday decorations on the windows at both store fronts. The board moved funds from its reserves into the seasonal lighting and holiday décor budget.

The association’s business administrator/events coordinator Dale Dawson, who owns Mountain Rose Gifts, said Williams and Rostomian agreed to the temporary decorations on their future establishments.

“This is a high estimate, but we wanted to make sure we had the cushion (for the job),” Dawson said. “We’ve been sitting so long with those paper-covered windows.”

Although work continues at both locations, Griepp voiced concern about the appearance of the empty locations at the entrance of the shopping park. While working, Griepp can peer through the bookstore’s glass doors and see pedestrians walking along Verdugo Avenue, where the empty storefronts are located. Both buildings curve onto Honolulu Avenue, almost hiding neighboring shops.

Griepp said some pedestrians don’t walk further onto Honolulu Avenue because the storefronts may give off an empty appearance for those who don’t know the area. Once Upon a Time is beside the former Rocky Cola Café.

“They’ll point at the empty stores, and I assume that’s why they turn around,” said Kris Vreeland, buyer and community outreach coordinator for Once Upon a Time. “When a store is closed, it impacts the rest of us even if you can’t measure it.”