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Abbot Kinney Boulevard's renaissance a mixed blessing

The Venice street has gone from gritty to glitzy over recent decades, attracting tourists but driving out some longtime denizens.

October 25, 2013|By Martha Groves

Kristy Choo was a new immigrant from Singapore in 2003 when she opened Jin Patisserie, featuring pastries and a tea garden. She initially paid rent of $3,000 a month. Over time, her rent doubled, but she could manage. Then early this year, her landlord said he wanted $40,000 a month. She told him: "No way." She moved to Culver City and is selling mostly wholesale. Kreation Kafe & Juicery, a chain franchise, filled her spot on Abbot Kinney.

Hal's opened 27 years ago when Abbot Kinney "was like a war zone," said Donald Novack, co-owner. Early on, his wife, Linda, had to step over a dead body at the restaurant's back door. "Back then, we were looking for somebody to park on the street. Now it's totally opposite."

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One person pleased with the renaissance is Stephen Vitalich, an architect who has revamped many buildings on the street. "On the whole, the street is changing for the good," he said. "If some merchants get pushed out because they can't compete … that's capitalism."

Don Glunts, a real estate investor, said the upswing has been long in coming. He closed escrow on an Abbot Kinney building in 1980 and was celebrating there with a group of friends the night Sarai Ribicoff, niece of Connecticut Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, was shot just outside. So inured were people to gunfire, Glunts said, they didn't even go outside to see what had happened. Until recently, he said, "It was never really a robust street." He and his partners have leased a space to Scotch & Soda, an Amsterdam-based clothier. "They are all over Europe and wanted to come into the coolest, hippest streets in the U.S.," Glunts said.

The biggest test for the street looms as developers push for approval of a nearly 70-room hotel. (They backed off plans for 92 rooms and a fourth story after opponents protested.) If the plans are approved and the restaurants attempt to stay open during construction, chefs will be nervously watching for dust in the tomato bisque.

The changes have already proved too much for Carol Tantau, owner of Just Tantau, an eclectic jewelry store that has been a boulevard mainstay since 1982.

"We've been up and coming for 20 years," Tantau, who lives in her store, said of Abbot Kinney. Yet many of her veteran customers have stopped coming to the street because of the altered atmosphere and scarce parking. Tantau plans to move come January but knows it will be difficult to replicate the current arrangement. "Where can I go," she said, "with two cats and a Steinway grand?"

A map of Abbot Kinney businesses is at the boulevard merchants' website.

martha.groves@latimes.com

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