Olvera Street merchants fear the DTLA marketplace won't survive the pandemic
LOS ANGELES - The business owners and merchants on Olvera Street, a historic street in downtown Los Angeles, fear the marketplace won't survive the COVID-19 pandemic due to a lack of visitors.
Olvera Street is known as the "Birthplace of Los Angeles" and is a Mexican marketplace with old structures, street vendors, cafes, restaurants and shops. It's within the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument.
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed Olvera Street and it now has little-to-no foot traffic.
"There's no tourism happening right now so it's [Olvera Street] been very impacted. It's been quite an ordeal. I have never in my life imagined that anything could happen that could be so catastrophic to Olvera Street. We are literally here trying to survive to stay in business, and in fact, some of the businesses here have already failed," said Edward Flores, the owner of Juanitas Cafe.
Juanitas Cafe has been owned by Flores' family for decades.
"I'm the third generation of my family operating this business. We've been around for 76 years. My grandmother started this business in 1944. It's very dear to me. We've seen generations of customers come through here as well, as much as four and five generations come to this business," said Flores.
However, the pandemic resulted in the majority of the businesses being closed for six months. The businesses that reopened in September are struggling.
"Visitorship has dropped down 80-90 percent and it's at an unsustainable rate right now. It's very heavy on the merchants. It's very disheartening to come here and hope to do business and see the place very sparse. There used to be a nightlife here and if you look up and down the streets, there's no one here. People are actually bailing out of this place right now because there's just no visitorship after dark," said Flores.
Flores cut his hours of operation by 41 percent and had to lay off employees. He applied for six loans and was able to get the SBA loan, but said it will only carry him through January.
"We just kind of pick and choose the things that have to be paid and let other things float down the road. I remember walking into here one day in May. I worked 13 hours and I made $11 in sales and it was just so discouraging and I couldn't believe that I actually could sell so little," said Flores.
Mike Mariscal, the owner of "Myrosa Enterprises" describes Olvera Street as a "ghost town."
"Foot traffic, of course, is just way down like it is everywhere," he said.
Mariscal said his family has owned his business for generations.
"It's put food on my table, my family's table, for 90 years and it's [the pandemic] the roughest anybody has seen it, well, of course, except during the Great Depression because my family was here during that too," he said.
Valerie Hanley, the owner of "Casa California" is concerned she won't be able to stay open much longer.
"There's just not enough business to sustain everybody here. It's very surreal to know that places are just shutting down. We've already lost three merchants here on this street because of the uncertainty of everything that's going on. We're just trying to see what we can do to survive," she said.
Hanley's father started working on Olvera Street in 1930 as a "shoe-shine boy."
"It's really a Mecca for that culture to come to Los Angeles and understand our history. All of that culture is important. If we go away as merchants, all of those events go away because the merchants put on all of the traditional events," said Hanley.
The merchants put on events like Dia De Los Muertos and Las Posadas. However, those events were not able to happen this year due to the pandemic.
Hanley said the area is also seeing an increase in homelessness.
"It was an issue before the pandemic and it started to increase and now with the pandemic, it's even more so. It's something else that affects how we do business," said Hanley.
The merchants have rent relief until January and fear what will happen afterward if they have to return to paying full rent.
"If we're back to full rents, it's going to be difficult, almost impossible for us to make it," said Hanley.
The business owners are hoping people will come to Olvera Street to help support them during the pandemic.
Olvera Street held a virtual "Dia De Los Muertos" event this year, and it can still be viewed at diadelosmuertos2020.com
You can click here to learn more about Olvera Street.
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