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In L.A., a snack shop in a subway station counts as news

Commuters and urban-development watchers cheer a small snack shop's opening at the 7th Street/Metro Center station. Such outlets are common in other cities, but this seems to be L.A.'s one and only.

July 16, 2011|By Nita Lelyveld, Los Angeles Times
  • A mirror reflects the entrance to the 7th Street/Metro Center subway station, where Rush Snack Bar owner Andrew Cohen talks on his cellphone. He expects to open the shop sometime this weekend.
A mirror reflects the entrance to the 7th Street/Metro Center subway station,… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

The dreamers of downtown are sensitive, even to the smallest shifts.

Brigham Yen was among the first to feel the one at 7th and Hope streets, 16 steps beneath the surface of the sidewalk.

When he documented it on his blog about a month ago, the news spread fast to others tracking downtown development.

"Wow, this is almost too good to be true!" one reader commented. "This is very awesome news," agreed another.

The object of their glee, still under construction: a small shop with a glass front and a young owner who planned to sell coffee, fresh-squeezed juices, salads and sandwiches.

The excitement, however, was not over what Andrew Cohen would serve.

In subway stations all over the world, travelers can buy things — newspapers and magazines, coffee and candy bars, aspirin, tissues, cough drops, and even, in some places, meals. That hasn't been the case in L.A., which has rankled boosters who want this city to hold its own against the big boys, above and below ground.

Rush Snack Bar, which Cohen expects to open sometime this weekend, will be the first retail establishment underground in a Los Angeles Metro station.

Or close enough.

It is, in fact, a former basement storage unit for 655 Hope, an apartment building that used to house offices but now bills itself as "the ultimate urban living experience," with "live-work, flexi-space units" and kitchens of "stainless steel motif."

The shop is not on Metro property. And it's not on a subway platform. But it fronts a corridor leading in and out of the 7th Street/Metro Center station, and those entering or exiting on the Hope side will pass it, going up or down the stairs.

To Yen, a self-described "transit and urban geek," that's worth celebrating.

"I just feel there's not a lot of love for this city. I think the city needs cheerleaders. It's important to be rah rah rah, and really kind of focus on the steps that are made in the right direction instead of the two steps backward," said Yen, a 30-year-old sales agent for the online real-estate brokerage Redfin.

"I've looked at stations in New York and Madrid and other cities. They are so cool. They have all these shopping options and eateries. L.A. is more utilitarian," he said. "So when I saw the snack bar, I just about flipped. I was like, 'Wow, this is symbolic. This is what other cities have.' I like to call it urban maturity, L.A. maturing."

Cohen, 24, had hoped to open Friday — in time for the big "Carmageddon" weekend, when some subway lines would operate for free. He passed his health inspection. His two staffers came in early on opening day. The place looked spiffy with its blackboard menu, bright reds and yellows, and wall of urban-chic reclaimed wood planks. He looked hip too, in dark jeans and a fitted blue and black lumber shirt.

He spoke of pulling inspiration from European travels, and said he'd offer discounts for Metro riders and Metro employees.

"People are telling me that it's revolutionary," he said of the little shop.

But he was having a sort of Barmageddon — a malfunctioning cash register, a front-window sign slow to arrive — that left his actual moment of opening uncertain.

Still, at morning rush hour, hundreds of people paused to look — lawyers wearing suits, young fashion and design students wearing hardly anything.

Some lifted bikes up the stairs. Others spit in the corridor's trash bins or dug around for scraps. One woman in a swimmingly large T-shirt, worn jeans and flip-flops said loudly to no one and everyone, "How do you like that? There's going to be snacks."

It's the smallest of shifts, a blip, a pebble plopped in the ocean. But it has been noted.

nita.lelyveld@latimes.com

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