October 20, 2005
Fairfax Shops Feel the Squeeze
A venerable Jewish business in the Fairfax District has received a short-term stay of execution. Hatikvah Records, an internationally known vendor of both popular and rare Jewish music, will remain open at 436 N. Fairfax Ave. until mid-January, despite earlier reports that its closure was imminent.
A sizeable rent increase had threatened to close the shop by Oct. 15, but Simon Rutberg, who has owned 51-year-old Hatikvah since 1989, said he's been allowed to pay at his current monthly rate a few months longer.
"The owners did not want me to lose the Chanukah season and were good enough to extend through it," Rutberg said, adding that Chanukah is when he moves the most merchandise.
Rutberg expects to shutter his storefront soon after and switch to selling via the Internet only.
The fate of Rutberg's shop could play out all along Faifax Avenue as rising property values and rents threaten to force out traditional merchants who have given the street its Jewish flavor. A string of businesses across the street from Hatikvah are struggling to hold on since their building was sold and their rents raised.
Picanty grocers, run for 18 years by 77-year-old Nori Zbida, is being squeezed by a monthly rent increase of $850, boosting it to $3,771 -- a lot for a business that caters to locals looking for kosher groceries and Hebrew-language newspapers. Arnold M. Herr Bookseller will be out early next year; Solomon's Bookstore is threatened; and the National of Council of Jewish Women has acknowledged a steep rent increase for its shop space.
The building that houses Hatikvah Records changed hands in June. Fairfax Avenue LLC purchased the property with support from lender Harkham Family Enterprises, a company that has been involved in several land purchases on Fairfax, including the property across the street. A precipitous rent raise for Hatikvah was to take effect first in August, then in October -- until the latest postponement.
But one way or another time seems to be running out.
"I lament it," said Stephan Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society.
He has childhood memories of driving in from the San Fernando Valley with his parents to the Fairfax District and recalls how Hatikvah Records defined the very atmosphere of the area.
"You would hear the music blaring out down the street," he said. "It was very special."