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Wednesday, Feb 1, 2023

Too Much of a Good Thing?

When Chris Kelly opened a bicycle shop on Hollywood Boulevard five years ago, the store’s front window looked out upon ratty tattoo parlors and trashy lingerie shops.

Now there’s a nightclub in the mix, and though the place only comes alive at night, the new neighbor is still a welcome sight “much better than some crappy smoke shop with a run-down entrance,” said Kelly, owner of Hollywood Pro Bicycles.

If only the clubs could boost Kelly’s business. As Hollywood’s makeover from a seedy, crime-ridden corridor to a cleaner and safer community continues to take shape, businesses and residents along Hollywood Boulevard find themselves in a delicate balancing act.

Part of it centers on the reality that these nightspots, which have restored dilapidated buildings and cleaned up long stretches of storefronts, are lifeless during the day. At night, moreover, there has been a jump in noise- and alcohol-related complaints along with more traffic that clogs Hollywood and Sunset boulevards and side streets in between.

Residents and business owners complain that the commercial core’s scarce parking is becoming ever-more expensive, with some nightclub-adjacent lots charging $65 a space for nighttime parking.

“That is going to kill all of us, not just the nightclubs,” said Joel Fisher, a community liaison for the Avalon nightclub and a past president and current member of the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council.

Nightclub shakeout?

There’s no denying that nightlife in Hollywood is quickly gaining on tourism as the area’s main economic engine. Nearly 50 bars and clubs already operate in Hollywood and another 30 are in various stages of approval. With such a concentration of nightspots, fallout may be inevitable. “It will come to a point where they’ll tumble out one by one,” said Bruce Duff, production manager at the Knitting Factory. “There’s not that many club goers.”

Duff believes his nightspot is safe because it doesn’t rely on dancing and is known more for its concerts. “Most of the things opening up are exclusive places where you stand outside for hours pleading with bouncers,” he said. “Then, when you get inside all you have is a bunch of trust-funders staring at each other.”

New Hollywood developments many of them residential are trying to capitalize on the nightlife scene. At the recently restored Hillview Apartments, owner Jeff Rouze is opening a nightclub by Avalon owner Steve Adelman in the building’s basement, a former speakeasy.

Rouze said he doesn’t believe the club will interfere with the tenants living above it. “We’re working on isolating the sound,” he said. “Besides, it won’t be a high-population club. It’ll be more of a low-key, quiet jazz thing.”

Still, long-time Hollywood club owners say the influx of upstarts has made competition fierce. “Obviously, there is a saturation in the club business,” said Chris Breed, owner of Hollywood hotspots Cabana Club and White Lotus.

Breed opened the Sunset Room in 1997 back when launching a Hollywood club was considered risky. He chose Hollywood because he was tired of noise complaints and traffic on the crowded Sunset Strip, where he started the Roxbury.

Breed figured that people who were attracted by movie openings at the Cinerama Dome might want to pop by the Sunset Room. He also liked the $1 a foot basement rents, which he said, have now tripled.

Nightclubs have been pushing rents to unrealistic heights for retailers. Only until large residential projects open over the next several years will the region have a large enough population to warrant retailers paying those rates, according to several business owners.

But that’s another potential problem. As Hollywood undergoes a resurgence in apartment and condominium development, club owners expect complaints to accelerate as more residents arrive. So do some developers who say they have tried to find tenants who recognize the club scene is part of the Hollywood lifestyle.

Potential tensions

To prevent these clashes, there have been efforts to slow the pace of club development. That includes getting tough in enforcing the parking requirement of two spaces per 1,000 square feet in Hollywood’s redevelopment area. It also means a more extensive permit review process so that business owners can be easily subject to revocation hearings if they aren’t adhering to conditions.

“It is an extensive and arduous process now, and you have to do everything by the book,” said Elizabeth Peterson, owner of a land-use consulting firm.

Scott Shuttleworth, chief executive of the Vine Street Lounge and the Hollywood & Vine restaurant, said residential developers haven’t prepared for tensions between residents and clubs. He faulted developers for not working with club owners to prevent problems. “This is a missed opportunity for everyone,” he said.

At least for now, Sam Nazarian, chief executive of SBE Entertainment Group, which owns the clubs Lounge, Shelter, Slab and Prey, said it’s still easier to get permits in Hollywood than other areas of L.A. (Licenses are required to sell alcohol and tobacco and permits are required for dancing and door fees.)

With barriers to entry being comparatively low, Nazarian said East Coast club owners are eyeing Hollywood for new locations and the flood of new operators isn’t likely to cease any time soon. He estimated 30 clubs are in the pipeline.

To fill up their locations nightly, owners are fighting over the same customers. Breed described competition as fierce for top promoters, who get a cut of a night’s take to fill clubs. With demand soaring, the handful of A-list promoters has been charging hefty fees.

That’s left club operators without ties to top promoters in a squeeze. To stay afloat, they use promoters who sometimes employ marketing tactics that attract violent crowds.

“Whenever you have urban events which feature hip hop, gangsta rap or dirty rap, there is a propensity for violence, not because of the music but because of the crowd it attracts,” said Michael Rose, the alcohol beverage coordinator for the Hollywood Vice Section of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Several ideas are being floated to ease all the growing pains. Some residents are asking every new club and bar to serve food in order to cut-down on the amount of alcohol going into empty stomachs. And the LAPD is encouraging nightclubs to stay open until 4 a.m. two hours later than the alcohol cutoff to give club-goers time to sober up (that one has received a lukewarm response from owners).

Meantime, Kelly, the bicycle shop owner, believes that both sides of Hollywood’s economy the day part and the nightlife can coexist, especially as more residential projects come online.

“All I know is my business is up 50 percent over last year,” he said. “Is that directly because of the clubs? Probably not, but it hasn’t hurt.”


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