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VALLEY BUSINESS | THEATER STAGES: THE MONEY'S THE THING

Restaurants, Businesses Get Into the NoHo Revival Act

Marketing: Theater-related activity is bringing diners to area along with requests for real estate for new enterprises, officials say.

May 16, 2000|KATHLEEN O'STEEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — When the NoHo theater and arts district was created here eight years ago, the idea was to use the lure of the arts to rejuvenate one of the city's more dilapidated corridors along Lankershim Boulevard.

Then the earthquake hit in 1994 and Metro Rail began subway construction, and NoHo, well, it sort of went nowhere.

But change is now in the air, and the 41 theaters clustered here are finally starting to create pay dirt for the other businesses in the area, albeit small pay dirt so far.

"Our business has gone up 25% in the last two months," said Star Irvine, owner of the funky Eagle's Newsstand Cafe, a 1,200-square-foot restaurant and newsstand on Lankershim Boulevard within walking distance of the El Portal Theater, which houses three stages.

"Everything is coming on line and I'm getting more business every day," Irvine said.

Of the 41 theaters, most are small Equity-waiver theaters (99 seats or under) that present new plays and cutting-edge kind of fare. The largest theater in the area is the El Portal, which houses a 360-seat venue, a 92-seat house and a 44-seat small stage.

Irvine, who has owned Eagle's for the past 10 years, says she deliberately chose Lankershim Boulevard because of the large number of theaters and recording studios nearby.

"I wanted to locate my business in an arts area," she said. "And now we get people who work at the theaters and studios eating here during the day. Hal Linden has lunch here every day."

Linden, who played Barney Miller in the old TV sitcom of that name, is starring in "The Play's the Thing" at the El Portal, which officially opened Friday.

Similarly, business at Starbucks, half a block away at Lankershim and Magnolia, has picked up considerably since it opened a year and a half ago.

"I know that a huge percentage of my evening business is related to some sort of theater-related activity," said Steve Hamblin, manager of the North Hollywood store. "The theaters hold acting classes during the week and we get a lot of those people buying coffee. And certainly the crowd from 7:15 to 7:45 p.m. on weekends is a much different crowd than the ones who come in from 8 to 9:30 p.m."

"Things are now starting to move," said Lillian Burkenheim, a project manager with Los Angeles' Community Redevelopment Agency. "We're getting lots of calls from real estate agents about buildings in the area, but we do have a ways to go still."

Besides inquiries for restaurants, many requests are for entertainment-related businesses such as sound stages, prop shops and the like. "We always knew that Lankershim Boulevard would be a destination point on the Metro Rail line, as opposed to just a transit stop," Burkenheim said. "So we wanted to have an active, interesting place for people to come to."

The area is also getting a hefty financial boost from the Community Redevelopment Agency. It is one of 11 areas within the city chosen to receive $1 million a year in development block grant funds as part of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan's Target Neighborhood Initiative Action Plan. "The mayor wanted to focus city energy on these 11 areas so that things would get done," she said.

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Film caterers David Sanfield and Paul Hibler, whose company has been on Chandler Boulevard for the past nine years, also saw promise along Lankershim. So they opened the Pit Fire Pizza restaurant 2 1/2 years ago, an airy eatery with indoor and outdoor seating on Lankershim at the corner of Magnolia.

"We've watched this area go way down and then start to come back up," Sanfield said. "And when the space became available, we decided to do it."

Sanfield said the business has grown steadily over the past two years. In addition to the NoHo location, they've since opened a second restaurant in the Puente Hills mall and franchised the name, with some creative control, for a third restaurant in CityWalk.

"But it's recently plateaued in North Hollywood," Sanfield said.

As for patronage from theatergoers, Sanfield said he hasn't noticed much of an impact.

"Occasionally when there's a theater event or opening we may see a little bit more," he said, "but we see more of an impact from the small screenings held across the street at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences."

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Part of the problem, he believes, has been their own lack of marketing.

"We do want to tap into the theater market, meet with some of the directors, possibly publish their playbills and offer discounts to patrons," he said.

A few miles down the road in Glendale, the city's two legitimate (live stage) theaters--the Alex Theatre on Brand Boulevard and the Glendale Centre Theatre on Orange--are informally trying to create the same kind of synergy with local businesses. So far, they've been able to provide a small boost to area restaurants and retailers.

"We definitely get people from the Glendale Centre Theatre," noted Moe Elliott, general manager of Damon's Steak House. "We share the same parking lot and people just walk over."

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