Celebrating Legacy Businesses | Los Angeles Conservancy
Casa del Musico owner Noel Jaramillo. Photo by M. Rosalind Sagara/L.A. Conservancy.

Legacy—or longstanding—businesses are integral to Angeleno heritage, yet many are not fully appreciated and acknowledged for what they provide to communities, with an increasing number of them now at risk through closure. 

Soaring rents, development pressures, and lack of succession plans are some of the ongoing challenges faced by many legacy business owners. A recent local study conducted in Long Beach found the future of its legacy businesses will come into question when baby boomer owners retire in the next five to fifteen years. This is the reality of Jorge Tello, owner of La Casa del Mariachi in Boyle Heights. While his sister promises to keep the shop going when he retires, who will local mariachi musicians turn to for custom suits after her? 

With talks of a potential sale, will this year’s Oktoberfest at Alpine Village, in a section of unincorporated Los Angeles, be its last? When longtime French restaurant Taix in Echo Park comes back after a proposed redevelopment project is completed, will loyal customers return? How does the potential demolition of the iconic Tinder Box change the streetscape of Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica? 

Our efforts highlight diverse business types and businesses from across the County, but we need your help in expanding the list. Is there a legacy business you love? Please email M. Rosalind Sagara at rsagara@laconservancy.org and share your story now! 

Though generally accepted that legacy businesses make important economic and cultural contributions to our communities, local governments in the County have lagged in developing policy goals and programs to protect the region’s legacy businesses.

In 2013, San Francisco Heritage launched Legacy Bars and Restaurants to encourage residents to experience the history of 100 of San Francisco’s most cherished longstanding restaurants and bars. By 2015, the Board of Supervisors approved the creation of the San Francisco Legacy Business Registry, which is now open to businesses and nonprofits thirty years or older that have made a significant impact on the history or culture of their neighborhood. San Francisco voters have now passed a measure creating the Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund, which provides grants to legacy business owners and property owners who agree to favorable lease terms with legacy business tenants.  

In 2016, the City of Seattle funded a Legacy Business Study to better understand issues affecting legacy businesses and consider recommendations to support them. Completed in 2017, the study found that programs in U.S. cities primarily assist small, local businesses as opposed to legacy businesses. In cities abroad, including Paris, London, and Buenos Aires, governments provide funds to promote and preserve cultural heritage assets such as legacy businesses. 

Seattle is currently developing a multilingual toolkit to help businesses with commercial leases and plans to support succession planning and to assist with the marketing and branding of legacy businesses. 

San Francisco Heritage’s policy paper, Sustaining San Francisco’s Living Heritage, credits Buenos Aires Bares Notables, an official designation program initiated in the 1990s for bars, cafes, and other legacy businesses as inspiration for their own Legacy Bars and Restaurants initiative. 
 
Over the years, the Conservancy has worked to protect legacy businesses, from responding to urgent threats to providing technical advice and support. Some of our recent work includes bringing funding for the rehabilitation and reopening of the Formosa Café’s Pacific Electric Red Car trolley in West Hollywood, advising on restoration work of the 1959 Casa de Cadillac in Sherman Oaks, and most recently, helping to designate Norms on La Cienega and Tom Bergin’s as Historic-Cultural Monuments (HCM).

How can we help legacy businesses impacted by factors such as neighborhood change, economic difficulties, aging building stock, and aging founders? For issues so complex, there are no easy answers. 

Legacy businesses vary widely and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to meeting their needs. They may be housed in older buildings, both nondescript and those that are architecturally significant. Some buildings may have been altered over time to support new uses by the original owner, or by a new owner. 

Legacy businesses housed in architecturally or culturally significant buildings, or are located in eligible historic districts, may consider landmark designation. In these cases, the building owner may take advantage of financial incentives like preservation tax credits and grants available to owners of landmarked buildings. Legacy businesses that are primarily culturally significant may have a harder time making a case for landmark designation. 

While landmark designation may help with neighborhood stabilization and, in some cases, even help offset rent increases, it does not alleviate all of the challenges facing a legacy business owner. For instance, landmark designation primarily benefits owners of buildings, not necessarily the owner of the business or tenant. 

Technical assistance and small business funding provided by municipalities or nonprofit organizations may offer needed resources, but some business owners may find these difficult to access, or not specifically designed with a legacy business in mind. In these cases, legacy business owners would benefit from the creation of specific city- and county-wide tools. 

In September 2019, the Los Angeles City Council adopted a motion instructing the Economic and Workforce Development Department to analyze legacy business programs created in other cities and to provide recommendations for implementing a similar program. Similarly, the City of West Hollywood recently directed staff to explore the establishment of a legacy business registry, preservation fund, and other incentives for legacy businesses. 

Our aim for this microsite and related activities is to create an informative and inclusive platform to discuss how programs, policy tools, and advocates can support longtime business owners.

Support Legacy Businesses

Right now, community efforts to preserve Alpine Village are underway. Learn more about what you can do to help >>

Share Your Story

Legacy businesses make our neighborhoods unique. Do you have a story about a longtime local business that you would like to share with us? Email M. Rosalind Sagara at rsagara@laconservancy.org and share your story now!