There's a new sign in the window at Ivers Department Store in Highland Park.
Gone is the "For Sale" sign that hung for more than a year after what was once Highland Park's major commercial draw went out of business. Instead, a "For Lease" sign went up recently. And the building's new owner, a real estate development company, plans to have new occupants in before the end of this year.
"We have all our hope in it," said Jack Nourafshan, president of Reliable Properties, the company that bought the 30,000-square-foot building at 5801 N. Figueroa St. "It should go. We would be very surprised if it doesn't."
Reliable Properties is ready to spend up to $1 million to renovate the building for several retailers or for a single well-established business, Nourafshan said. The company has no plans to demolish the building, he said.
The old store is empty of merchandise and customers, but seemingly not of hope, particularly that of merchants on the Figueroa shopping strip who are looking for someone or something to revitalize the economically depressed business district. Ivers Department Store, a 71-year-old fixture in the northeast Los Angeles community, closed its doors permanently last summer, itself a victim of a decade of decline in sales. Ivers still operates a store in more affluent La Canada Flintridge.
"I hope a good business goes in there--somebody that will help Highland Park," Jose Zepeda, manager of People's Department Store, said of his store's next-door neighbor. "We need a business that is adjusted to the community, not something very fancy because the community cannot afford it."
Ivers President Jess Ivers Jr. said his family received about nine offers for the building before striking a deal with Reliable. Only three of those previous offers were seriously considered, Ivers said, and in each case there were conditions that could not be met. "We are happy that somebody has now bought it," Ivers said.
At Figueroa's intersection with Avenue 57, Ivers Department Store occupies what is considered to be a prime location in the heart of the Figueroa shopping strip. The sale of the building is viewed by the office of Councilman Joel Wachs, whose 2nd district includes a large portion of Highland Park, as a sign that a long-awaited change on the stagnating strip may have arrived.
"It's definitely a positive sign for the community," said Arline De Sanctis, Wachs' field aide in the area. "It's an indication of how the community is going to turn now."
Neither Ivers nor Reliable would disclose the selling price of the building. Nourafshan said, however, that Reliable Properties will be leasing space in the building at 75 cents per square foot.
Reliable specializes in rehabilitating old, vacant commercial buildings and emphasizes selecting tenants that will meet the needs of the surrounding community, Nourafshan said. His company, he said, has successfully rehabilitated empty buildings in areas such as Pasadena, West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.
Good Prices Important
"The key is to offer space to the right user," Nourafshan said. In Highland Park, where the average of the median incomes in nine census tracts is $14,204, "the right user has to provide products that are not very high" in price, he said.
The right tenant also would include a business or businesses that can cater to the community's increasing Latino population, Nourafshan said. Latinos represent 52% of Highland Park's 42,673 residents, according to 1980 census figures.
Research conducted by Reliable Properties shows that stores such as those specializing in auto parts, home furnishings, clothing and home entertainment equipment would do well, Nourafshan said.
But some merchants say that there are already too many small specialty stores doing poorly on the strip and that what is needed is a major enterprise to generate foot traffic up and down the street.
Jesse Flores, owner of U.S. Office Machines, said he would rather see the Ivers building occupied by the Highland Park Post Office, which has been looking for a larger facility than its current Figueroa Street location. The post office, Flores believes, would have been a natural magnet for longtime Highland Park shoppers and for new residents who don't know what the Figueroa strip has to offer and who shop elsewhere.
Small Stores Criticized
If more small stores move onto the strip, "they're going to fall into the same groove as the others," Flores said, asserting that many of those stores have priced themselves out of competition and have made the effort to revitalize Highland Park "like trying to revive a dead horse."
Other merchants also temper their anticipation with a bit of caution. Although eager to see what changes the sale of Ivers will bring, "nobody's going to get excited until somebody starts moving in," said Larry Hatler, co-owner of the Big Red Q print shop across the street from Ivers.
In the meantime, Reliable will repair the roof and electrical wiring. Nourafshan said engineers will inspect the building to see if it has to be brought up to city earthquake standards.
Reliable is soliciting ideas from the community to find out what businesses residents and merchants would like to see in the Ivers building. Such suggestions can be mailed to Reliable Properties' office at 6399 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90048.