After three years on one of Venice’s busiest and most eclectic commercial corridors, Pinkberry has decided to leave town.
The frozen yogurt chain on Abbot Kinney Boulevard was the focus of a community boycott since 2007, led by Venice residents Dawn Hollier and Melissa Bechtel, the co-founders of Venice Unchained. The group is trying to prevent additional retail chain stores from setting up shop on the seaside community’s most frequented commercial thoroughfares, such as Abbot Kinney and Ocean Front Walk.
While Hollier was thrilled that the yogurt shop was leaving town, she did not attempt to take full credit for Pinkberry closing its Abbot Kinney location.
“I’m not in a position to judge what factors influenced their decision to close the Venice Pinkberry,” Hollier, a film editor and 20-year resident of Venice, said the day the frozen yogurt shop served its final treats on Monday, May 3rd.
The economic downturn has been a challenge for businesses large and small, and Pinkberry is no different. The chain, which has 12 stores on the Westside, including two in Santa Monica, one at Los Angeles International Airport and another at the Waterside in Marina del Rey, recently closed its West Hollywood location, one of its more popular venues and the chain’s first store.
A Pinkberry representative said the chain is expanding its base and rethinking new locations for its stores.
“We simply decided to close the store because we have a lot of stores and a lot of customers on the Westside,” said Mary Sadeghy, Pinkberry’s vice president of marketing.
Sadeghy, who declined to discuss the Abbot Kinney store’s sales, gave similar reasons for the closure of the West Hollywood location.
“We just decided that we had enough other locations within that vicinity to service that market,” she told the Los Angeles Times last month. “It’s definitely a nostalgic store for us and we appreciate the history of it, which is why we’re not shutting it down completely.”
West Hollywood will remain an administrative building for the Los Angeles-based chain.
Venice Unchained began the boycott in hopes of convincing Los Angeles officials to pass an ordinance that would prohibit what they refer to as “formula retail outlets,” or larger chain stores from encroaching on what they feel is the unique ambiance of Venice.
“For me, it’s a feeling of creativity, energy and excitement,” Bechtel, who teaches yoga in Mar Vista and has resided in Venice for 11 years, explained in an interview three years ago. “(Formula retail stores) have a very scripted environment that takes the autonomy, creativity and self-expression away from service and how you communicate with the customer.”
California cities that have similar laws include Arcata, Carmel, Calistoga, Pacific Grove, San Juan Bautista, Sausalito, Solvang and San Francisco.
Carol Tantau, the owner of Just Tantau, a gift store on Abbott Kinney, was not aware that the yogurt shop was closing until its last few days on the boulevard. As the Abbot Kinney Merchants Association’s representative on the Venice Chamber of Commerce, Tantau, who has been on the boulevard for 27 years, believes the boycott played at least a small role in influencing Pinkberry’s departure.
“I suspect it had some effect,” she said. “It was not what you call a ‘high drama boycott.’ I think people just shied away from it.”
Sadeghy, who told The Argonaut she recently joined the company, did not directly address the Venice boycott or if it played a role in the decision to close the Abbot Kinney store.
“Just like many growing businesses, we make our decisions to expand based on a variety of factors,” she said.
Tantau said shortly after Pinkberry arrived, Bechtel, Hollier and their supporters made a public splash when they openly encouraged residents not to patronize the yogurt chain. And while she thinks that was a factor in Pinkberry not faring very well, she also pointed out a variable that nearly all business in current times are facing — the nosedive into the global economic recession.
“It was a little controversial when Venice Unchained made a pretty big issue of it in the beginning,” she said. “But it’s also very hard economic times.”
Bruce Wisnicki, the owner of the building where the yogurt chain was housed, told the real estate and neighborhood blog Curbed LA that the frozen yogurt store was not fully accepted on Abbot Kinney.
“They are leaving because they were underperforming,” Wisnicki said. “Venice never embraced Pinkberry. There was a portion of the community that wouldn’t go there.”
Tantau found it interesting that Wisnicki chose to rent a space last year next to Pinkberry to another ice cream parlor, Nice Cream.
“That seemed a little odd for a landlord who is managing a property to rent to a competing business,” she noted.
City planning officials, who held community meetings with business owners and residents last year to gather information about a possible ordinance, have since put those plans on hold due to a variety of reasons, mostly related to the ongoing municipal financial crisis.
“The formula retail ordinance is currently on hold. It remains on our work program, but given large budget constraints and lack of staff, our priorities must focus on reviewing current development proposals and cases at this time,” Shana Bostin, the city planner for Venice, answered via e-mail in response to the status of the proposed ordinance.
Hollier hopes Pinkberry’s departure from the popular boulevard will serve as a cautionary tale for other large-scale retailers.
“Though the ordinance is currently stalled in the Planning Department due to budgetary cutbacks, we like to think that Pinkberry’s exodus will give other chains pause before opening on Abbot Kinney,” she said.
Rudj Escobar and Liz Rizzo stopped at Pinkberry Saturday, May 1st for a last frozen treat after learning that it would soon be closing. The couple, who lives a few blocks off Abbot Kinney, said they were sad to see the frozen yogurt shop leave.
“It’s not like it’s a Burger King or a Starbucks,” Escobar said. “(Abbot Kinney) is like Park Slope in Brooklyn with a lot of kids and a lot of families, and if you want to keep the moms shopping here, it’s a good place to take your kids.”
Hollier said the end result is Venice residents and merchants have prevailed in maintaining a measure of what they all love about Abbot Kinney and what attracts tourists and visitors from other cities; its hip, high-energy yet laid-back charm, without the pretense of a large retail chain.
“I’m pleased that our community came together, and that shows that the economic vitality and character of our community is more valuable than a frozen treat,” she said.