Downtown Center BID’s Schatz at Seventh Street and Grand Avenue.

Downtown Center BID’s Schatz at Seventh Street and Grand Avenue. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

The trendy restaurants and bars that have popped up along Seventh Street in downtown Los Angeles have been drawing crowds of hipsters and young professionals.

So what’s preventing this strip from turning into the Third Street Promenade of downtown, a destination for Angelenos and tourists alike? Not enough retail, downtown boosters complain.

Looking to capitalize on the phenomenal success of eateries such as Bottega Louie — a 10,000-square-foot Italian eatery at Seventh and Grand Avenue – business leaders are trying to lure stores that could complete the rebirth of the nearly one-mile stretch of Seventh from Figueroa to Main streets into a thriving corridor filled with shopping and dining businesses – and crowds spending money.

The Downtown Center Business Improvement District, a coalition of 1,200 area property owners, has begun recruiting distinctive retailers in hopes of getting clothing and shoe stores, booksellers and gift shops to open along Seventh. And they’re not just targeting national chains.

“If we try to emulate what you can find on the Westside or the Valley, then there is no reason for people to come downtown,” said Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Downtown Center BID. “But there is a reason for people to come downtown for unusual and eclectic kind of retail, iconic and eclectic retail that you can’t find in another neighborhood.”

Business and property owners in the area generally support the improvement district’s efforts. Some downtowners, though, think the process will occur organically.

“I think the catalyst will be more successful restaurants creating more synergy and more of a compelling reason to come down to Seventh Street and party,” said Mark Tarczynski, a broker with CB Richard Ellis Inc. who specializes in the downtown market. “And all of a sudden retailers will say, ‘There’s life down there.’”

Schatz recognizes that landlords looking for tenants aren’t going to wait forever, and that property owners might want to sign up a fast-food place rather than continue losing money on vacant storefronts.

“We are trying to educate our property owners that perhaps there is a better use, and we help to recruit it,” she said. “But all we can do is suggest. Ultimately it’s a property owner’s right, and they are going to do whatever they are going do.”

Ups and downs

Major department stores such as Broadway, Robinson Co. and Bullock’s once lined Seventh, but closed over the years as the neighborhood declined. In the past few years, Seventh from Figueroa east to Olive Street has turned into a “restaurant row” with eateries such as the high-profile sushi spot Sugarfish, which launched earlier this month. But the blocks between Olive and Main — which include a portion of the Jewelry District — became grittier and are dotted with establishments such as a check-cashing shops and discount retailer Big Lots. (Average rental rates along Seventh range from $4 a square foot a month near Figueroa and drop by 50 percent to $2 a square foot east toward Main.)

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