The Perils of Cool: GQ vs AK

For better or worse, Abbot Kinney is “the coolest street in America.” It’s a designation bestowed in the last year or so by everyone from Forbes to the foreign press and one that has been met with equal parts pride and dismay. On one end, it has ensured a constant stream of visitors from around the city and around the world flocking to shop the street. Admittedly, this is a good thing for independent retailers such as ourselves. But it has also meant skyrocketing rents, which has, in turn, radically altered the makeup of this once crunchy, eccentric and free-wheeling thoroughfare. Old landlords are selling out to the highest bidders. New landlords are razing the cottages and, in their wake, raising 3-story structures with an eye at maximizing rents. And rents rivaling Rodeo Drive can only be absorbed by multinational chains more interested in being a part of the coolest street in America than whether the address pays off in profits or not.

Look, A+R is in a building that might resemble some of the new loft spaces. It’s boxy. It’s modern. It’s relatively newish having been ready just months before our move into it in 2007. But it occupies a parcel of Abbot Kinney that was a dirt lot for decades. No 1930s cottage was harmed in the making of this address by architect-landlord Michael Sant, who also keeps an office on the street and is also dismayed by the changes along this once twee ‘hood.

Such are the trials and tribulations of any neighborhood in flux, mind you. But much of what is rapidly happening is without regard for how this will inevitably affect the overall reason why Abbot Kinney was cool in the first place. It was a mix of architecture—from cavernous former storage warehouses to vintage beach shacks and, like our place, the odd new structure erected on a dirt lot. It was the high and low retailers, all independently owned, not available on every shopping street in town or in the country, and surviving side by side. In most all of these cases, the owners could always be found there, tweaking the window display or buried under paper work in the back.

For many, including some of us newcomers, the speedy transformation to high-rent street populated by chain retailers, has sounded alarms in countless ways. To that extent, groups such as Imagine Venice, Save Venice, and even Occupy Venice are raising red flags at how the onslaught of gentrification could actually be bad not only for life but for business here at this unrivaled slice of L.A….of the world. Not all of these preservationists want to keep the street frozen in time. They know that change happens. Many embrace that some progress is good. But they caution that progress unchecked can also have irrevocable consequences.

To that end, this Saturday’s day-long event hosted by GQ Magazine is being celebrated and condemned by those on both sides of the divide. The event comes on the heels of a splashy event Tuesday night at the historic Wilshire Ebell Theater just west of downtown. The occasion was the magazine’s end-of-year Men of the Year honors, this time the coveted covers going to Justin Timberlake, Matthew McConaughey, Kendrick Lamar, the late James Gandolfini and Will Ferrell—named Funny Man of the Year.

For preservationists—progressive and not—this weekend’s event is no laughing matter. This is the magazine that first gave the street the “coolest in America” distinction. While the magazine is encouraging retailers to extend discounts and promote them with posters in their windows, the advocates are urging nonparticipants to brandish a counter message in their windows and with signs along the street casting GQ as a symbol of all that’s going awry with Abbott Kinney.

Should make for an interesting Saturday…see you there.

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Rose Apodaca