By María José Durán
Gentrification is changing Adams Avenue
A jagged crack runs down the wall of STUFF Furniture Consignment Shop all the way to its back door, jeopardizing the stability of the whole building. Scott Harring, owner of the store and tenant of the premises, stares at it with sadness showing on his face.
“This negligence is the reason why I am getting tossed out of Adams Avenue,” he said, pointing at the cracks. The second-to-last antique furniture store that stands on Antique Row will close its doors forever at this site on Sunday, Dec. 20.
Harring’s landlord plans to double the rent after the city required the building’s structural damage to be repaired. Monthly rent on the store with a small backyard and three parking spots will cost $3,000 for its next tenant, up from $1,500.
“I would have been willing to pay up to $500 more per month but they didn’t offer it to me. They just said: ‘get out,’” the antique dealer said.
Fifteen years ago, about 25 antique stores thrived on Adams Avenue. By the end of the third week of December, one sole survivor will remain in the historical district along the busy thoroughfare from Texas Street to Interstate 15. Adams Avenue is experiencing gentrification, for better or worse.
District 3 Councilmember Todd Gloria described it this way: “Thriving neighborhoods adapt to changes in the economy, trends and the surrounding community, and Adams Avenue has remained an active business corridor as antique stores have moved out, starting more than a decade ago.”
A study published in governing.com concludes that Adams Avenue has been gentrified. This analysis uses data from the 2009-2013 American Community Survey to determine if a certain neighborhood has undergone this transformation. The median home value has increased 42 percent in the stretch of Adams Avenue that is part of the North Park Planning Committee and 69 percent in the Normal Heights Community Planning Group, according to this comparison. The rents that landowners require have escalated, too, forcing a number of small businesses out of the neighborhood.
“Restaurants or coffee shops come and they pay a premium rent. Landlords get greedy and double, triple or quadruple their fees,” said Dave McPheeters, who has operated Zac’s Attic for the past 16 years.
McPheeters is about to become the only antique dealer left on Antique Row. “I own this building,” he said. “I would be embarrassed to close.”
Gledhill’s Vintage Furniture left a year ago because of rent hikes. “The landlord came over one day and said that he had found someone who paid three times the amount and wanted Ron [Gledhill] to vacate,” said entrepreneur Jocelyn Brierton, the antique dealer’s girlfriend. Together they managed the store, which had been there for 19 years. The space is now a hair salon.
“There are some winners and there are some losers when a neighborhood business district goes through revitalization,” Scott Kessler, executive director of the Adams Avenue Business Association (AABA), said during an interview with San Diego Uptown News.
Although Kessler acknowledges that rent increases have caused most antique dealers to relocate, he maintains that their business is suffering from an ongoing internal crisis. “Antiques are not in as much demand. Ikea is what people want . . . and the dealers have adapted to sell the majority of their product online.”
Brierton believes that most of the antique businesses have left Adams Avenue because of the higher rents. “We had a consignment store next door that we closed three years ago and we sold a lot. People loved our store,” she said, confirming that other antique dealers such as Ecklectica or Resurrected Furniture left Antique Row due to the rising rents.
“One doesn’t make a row,” McPheeters lamented with a hint of nostalgia in his voice. The last man standing in the Antique Row longs for the days when he was surrounded by his peers. Back then, the antique business blossomed along Adams Avenue.
“Getting antique dealers together is like herding cats because they are very independent. But there is camaraderie,” he said. “The more competition, the better for the business.”
Different sources have confirmed that the branding of Antique Row still brings tourists to Adams Avenue, but they feel fooled after finding out that there is only one antique dealer left. McPheeters said customers “get disappointed and they never come back.” And Jocelyn Brierton agreed: “I’ve been saying for years that the name is misleading people.”
Councilmember Gloria differs on this topic. “No matter what businesses occupy the great spaces on Adams Avenue, the Antique Row name remains important to the historical context of the corridor,” he contended.
Kessler, the AABA executive director, said there had been talk of a name swap, but they ultimately decided to keep the old reference.
“I fully support the preservation of historically significant resources throughout San Diego,” Gloria said.
Two physical traces of Antique Row remain on Adams Avenue. One sign greets drivers exiting Interstate 805 onto Adams Avenue. The other one reads: “Thanks for visiting the Antique Row” when you leave Adams Avenue towards University Heights. “That cost a lot of money for them to put that there. Now, are they going to take it down, are they going to decommission? Because they should,” Harring argued.
Parking is another issue that small businesses have to deal with regarding the transformation of the area. “Parking has been a nightmare for two years now. Customers complain all the time,” Harring said. The shifting landscape of Adams Avenue to bars and restaurants is to blame, he said.
The owner of STUFF Furniture Consignment Shop is moving to 5540 El Cajon Blvd. in the San Diego State University corridor, where he said rent is more affordable. Harring said he plans to open at his new location on Dec. 26.
Gledhill now repairs his antiques from a workshop in Santee. Most second-hand furniture dealers have spread here and there, but there is a higher concentration of them in Ocean Beach. Newport Avenue offers several multi-dealer warehouses where different styles and price ranges can be found. This new Antique District features almost 100 antiquarians within the walking distance of two blocks. It appears that San Diegans have found a replacement for the late Antique Row of Adams Avenue.
—María José Durán is a freelance writer from San Diego. She can be reached at email@example.com.