Larchmont denizens are worried today after beloved local restaurant Village Pizzeria posted a troubling petition on its social media page, asking fans to sign up as a way to pressure its landlords not to force them out of the building. Village Pizzeria first opened some 24 years ago and has become one of the most recognizable New York-style pizza spots in all of Los Angeles.
“We strongly encourage you to negotiate a fair resolution of the pre-pandemic high rent issue coupled with the mandated restrictions imposed [on Village Pizzeria] by the pandemic crisis,” reads the paper petition, which is intended to be signed in person and then sent to the restaurant’s landlord, American Commercial Equities, LLC. Mandated indoor dining closures and other measures put in place to help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus have “devastated” the Larchmont strip, the petition continues.
“We’ve tried in good faith to negotiate a fair deal with our landlord for six months to no avail,” owner Steve Cohen says in the caption below the image of the petition. “Unfortunately we may fall victim to what one in five small businesses have already faced: permanent closure.” The full post is shown below.
View this post on Instagram
For months we’ve been struggling to keep up with the insane demands that this pandemic has brought upon us. We know a lot of you are in similar situations, struggling to pay rents and various overhead costs, as are we. We’ve tried in good faith to negotiate a fair deal with our landlord for 6 months to no avail, and unfortunately we may fall victim to what 1 in 5 small businesses have already faced- permanent closure. We know a lot of you will miss your local favorites when they’re gone, so now’s the time to take action. We really don’t know if this petition will work, in the end our landlord has final say, but we would love and truly appreciate if you could come down and show your support by signing. By the end of this year, there will be at least 30 empty stores on our beloved Larchmont... please help us not be one of them. Thank you, and pizza love to all☮️❤️ #covidcasualty #swansong #smallbusiness #savesmallbusiness #savevillage #pizzalovers #laeats -Steve and the VP family/crew
Reached by phone, an agitated Cohen was adamant that without some form of long-term relief, either at the federal or individual (in the case of his corporate landlord) level, his business and many others like it will disappear in the coming months.
“We are suffering,” Cohen said of his restaurant and his block, where more than a dozen businesses have folded since the beginning of the pandemic. “How is it that billionaires can have this kind of hold on our lives?”
Cohen’s lease is controlled by American Commercial Equities, which is owned by billionaire B. Wayne Hughes, the founder of Public Storage, and his family. The group is a major player in Los Angeles real estate, and Hughes, Sr. is reported to be USC’s top private donor. The family horse, Authentic, just won this year’s Kentucky Derby as well.
Still, the millions that Cohen has paid in rent over the years is not enough to help him negotiate a new lease, he says. According to Cohen, American Commercial Equities is seeking to resume normal payments by early next year, along with a proportion of repayment for the currently-deferred rent over the next two years. “If I make it another 30 months,” Cohen says, then the company “will give me a two-month abatement to offset this past April and May.” Those two months of free rent won’t come until all the back and current rent is repaid, though, and with PPP money gone, there are few easy options to move forward.
Meanwhile, Village Pizzeria’s business is down 60 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. “This is all a game to them,” adds Cohen, who says that at least his local and vocal supporters have been coming out in droves. Many have signed the petition already and shared the story on social media, though the ultimate impact is unclear. “We really don’t know if this petition will work,” Cohen said on Facebook last night, “In the end our landlord has final say.”
Village Pizzeria is far from the first restaurant to struggle to come to a new agreement with its landlord during this unprecedented crisis. Downtown Los Angeles, once seen as the area’s greatest dining neighborhood, has been hit hard with restaurant closures of late, though resilient operators there continue to battled (with landlords, lowered expectations, and more) to stay afloat.
Village Pizzeria is closing this weekend due to a staffing issue, but Cohen says that someone will still be on site to take in signatures from 2:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Expect them to reopen on Wednesday next week. An online petition at change.org has also been created for Village Pizzeria.