Local

San Luis Obispo businesses prepare for retrofit

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The seismic retrofit of a building on Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo will displace four local businesses in the coming months.

Store owners have posted “going out of business” and “retrofit liquidation sale” signs in the windows in an attempt to grab last-minute sales.

Amnesia, Decades, The Novel Experience and the Hep Kat Beauty Parlor have less than a week to vacate the building. They face an uncertain couple of months.

Retrofitting the unreinforced masonry structure is expected to begin in April and will take about 10 weeks.

The first phase of retrofitting was done 10 years ago — all that remains is the structural reinforcement and the mandated installation of fire sprinklers, said Harmon Schragge, property manager of 779 to 787 Higuera St.

The building is one of about 35 remaining structures still to be retrofitted downtown.

When the city first imposed retrofit deadlines on unreinforced buildings downtown in 1997, there were 126 buildings identified. New impetus came after the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake, which collapsed unreinforced buildings in downtown Paso Robles and killed two women.

In February, the City Council gave a five-year reprieve to several buildings included in three large future projects: Garden Street Terraces, Chinatown and the Naman Project.

Three of the four businesses at the Higuera Street building, built in the late 1800s, hope to reopen at the same location, but Decades will move to a new spot.

Ron Elgas has operated Decades — a vintage clothing and collectibles store — for 15 years. He said he chose to move rather than pay the increased rent that will follow the seismic retrofit.

On a recent weekday, he was packing store items into boxes to move to Decade’s new, smaller location at 1021 Higuera St.

Elgas said he will have to downsize the store’s inventory by about 25 percent but will be able to keep all of his employees.

The Hep Kat Salon and Novel Experience plan to return to their existing locations.

The two shops require the least construction, and the impact is expected to be minimal.

Jim Hill, owner of the bookstore, said he hopes to remain open for business while work is done on the adjoining shops.

“I just have to wait and see how disruptive it becomes,” Hill said. “I’m hoping not to have to move everything out — that is just a daunting thought.”

Michael Mello, owner of Amnesia, said the business is going into hibernation until the work is complete.

Mello hopes that he can ramp up his wholesale business enough to keep the bills paid and hang on to his longtime store manager. Seven other employees will be without jobs.

“When we moved into the building, we knew this was on the horizon, but it was in limbo for years, and we just went with the flow,” said Mello, who has been at 787 Higuera St. for six years. “Now the time is here, and having known it was coming doesn’t make it any easier.”

Mello is tasked with removing the store’s inventory — much of it imported from Indonesia — and moving it to a storage facility while the construction is done.

He frets that many of the improvements he made to the interior of the store, such as the hand-painted walls and ceiling, will be ripped out and replaced.

He said he is not only losing several months of business but will also face increased rent costs and tenant improvements. Mello said the downtown location is worth staying at if he can bear the financial burden.

Schragge said the owner had originally hoped to do more façade and interior improvements along with the seismic retrofit, but found that the high cost and the length of time needed to do the work made it impossible.

Instead, the portion of the building now housing Decades will be the only one to get a new storefront because the structural work needed there will remove the existing façade, he said.

“We’ve been contemplating doing this for 10 years, and it has created a highly stressed environment for our tenants,” Schragge said. “Finally, this day has come, and we hope it will have a happy ending.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.

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