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Santa Monica Gem in Peril:

Albert Andonian is a soft-spoken man who left Beirut in 1969 in search of a better life for himself and his family.  He was a jeweler by trade and owned a shop in the center of town.  Once he settled in Los Angeles, he opened a concession at the old Broadway store in Century City and stayed there until 1975, at which time he purchased a small shop at 1312 Wilshire Boulevard.  Albert Andonian Jewelry has been serving customers from all over the Westside and the San Fernando Valley ever since.  He is now faced with eviction and the daunting task of trying to find another space that he can afford.

Andonian explained, “In the beginning, I had a lease, but several years later, I received a notice that the property was changing hands and that I would be subleasing from Landmark Theatres on a month-to-month basis.”  Apparently, this arrangement worked for many years, but when the NuWilshire Theatre was sold to La Brea Washington Co., LLC, Andonian received a one-month eviction notice in September to vacate his store, as it is part of the NuWilshire property.  “This was a big shock.” Andonian continues, “I thought we had at least another few years.”

It was impossible for Andonian to find a new space so quickly, and he was able to get an extension until December 7 so that he and his younger brother, 74-year-old Bernard, who he brought over from Beirut in 1978, could continue servicing their customers.  “I’m too young to retire,” said the 78-year-old Andonian.  “I love my work and am devoted to my customers.”  One such customer is Daniel Disipio, who has been using Andonian’s services for 30 years.  Says Disipio, “I feel very disturbed because this is a historical place and Albert gives honest service.  I don’t know what I’d do without him.  I don’t trust anyone else.”  Other customers come into the store daily to ask how they can help, and many showed up at the recent City of Santa Monica Landmarks Commission Public Hearing which was to consider a Landmark Designation Application for 1314-1319 Wilshire Boulevard.

Hobbling around with a broken ankle, Andonian says, “I’m doing everything in my power to find a place and I’ve looked at approximately 10 properties but I haven’t been able to find anything suitable so I desperately need an extension.”  He has called Max Netty at La Brea Washington Co., LLC to ask for an extension, but has not received a return phone call.  He only needs 400 to 600 square feet to house his hundreds of watches, rings, earrings, pendants, bracelets, and clocks and can pay only up to $2,000 a month. 

A few doors east of Albert Andonian Jewelry is Buster’s Shoe Repair, which has occupied this site since 1941.  The present owner is 57-year-old Samia Goli, who bought the business with her now-deceased husband 20 years ago.  They are facing the same overwhelming challenge as Albert Andonian – to find a suitable space that they can afford in the same neighborhood so that they can continue servicing their hundreds of customers, many of whom have signed petitions to help save the store.   

Goli takes out pictures of the NuWilshire Theatre from 1930 to support her position that this property should be declared a historic landmark.  The question remains: even if it receives that certification, would it prevent these two longtime tenants from being evicted? 

The Mirror contacted Netty for his comments.  Netty said, “I am not their landlord – the theater company is their landlord and they have to take it up with them directly.  The theater company’s lease has expired and they have moved out and their [Andonian and Goli] sub-tenancy has been terminated and they have no legal rights.”

“We have devoted customers who need us,” says Goli.  “If you are going to allow big businesses to push out the small businesses, it will be the end of small businesses which have been the backbone of this community.”  Her hope, as well as Albert Andonian’s, is that they will be allowed to stay in their current stores at least until they can each find a suitable new home. 

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