Ryan McDonald

Beloved Manhattan Beach jewelry store facing eviction

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Prestige Jewelers Manager Roula Khoury, right, and employee Mike Nino spent part of their Saturday explaining to customers that they may have to close by March 31. Photo by Ryan McDonald

by Ryan McDonald

 

Manhattan Beach resident Diane Halperin recently recalled some of her now-deceased grandmother’s last moments. Her grandmother gave her a ring that had long been in the family; Halperin promised to take care of it, but wondered who she should go to have it cleaned. Who could she trust with an object that held such deep sentimental value?

“If I need someone to look at it, to take care of it…who do I go to?” Halperin said.

For Halperin, who said she hardly ever takes the ring off, the answer was Prestige Jeweler’s, a small jewelry store in the Manhattan Village Mall that has been in business for some 24 years. But Halperin and other devoted customers may not be able to rely on Prestige for much longer: the store recently learned that its lease will end on March 31, and will not be renewed.

The looming loss of the store has saddened hundreds of community members, who say they rely on Prestige for purchases whose meaning goes beyond the number of carats. A petition delivered to the city council last week had more than 450 signatures, and during a visit to the store over the weekend, hundreds more had added their names.

The store received notice of the lease’s end from CB Richard Ellis, the commercial property group which manages the mall’s leases, on Feb. 18, according to store manager Roula Khoury. Upon opening the letter, store owner Abe Asmar had a heart attack and spent four days in intensive care.

For Khoury, the loss of a small jewelry store represents a blow to the local community. Prestige, she said, hosts a well-attended annual holiday party for its customers as a chance to thank them for their patronage and celebrate all the things that might inspire someone to buy jewelry. Inside the store, pictures of athletes and entertainers, all with personal inscriptions, grace the walls. Gesturing at the photos, Khoury said that they were evidence of the way the store has touched its customers beyond just selling them precious stones.

“Why would they come here? They have lots of money, they could go anywhere. They come here because of personal relationships,” Khoury said.

Phil Friedl, senior vice president with JLL, which serves as the development manager on behalf of mall owners RREEF, the real estate investment arm of Deutsche Bank, said that the decision not to renew the lease was reached jointly by JLL, RREEF and CBRE. He dismissed as baseless rumors that the mall would be handing over Prestige’s spot to a coffee shop, but said contractual confidentiality obligations limited the information that he could disclose about lease details or discussions.

The lease’s expiration follows the city council’s approval of a major mall enhancement project, which will transform the mall’s exterior and entrance. Friedl said that the termination of Prestige’s lease was not connected to the mall enhancement project, but noted that the mall was also carrying out ongoing, unrelated renovations its interior, which will impact the area where the jewelry store now sits.

“We are as a separate project doing renovations to the interior, and one of the key components is a better entryway to the mall. That corridor is going where Prestige sits,” Friedl said.

After the outpouring of support from residents, Councilmember Mark Burton asked the city to look into the situation. Economic Vitality Manager Andy Sywak has been facilitating discussion among the parties, and helping Prestige search for another location in the mall or elsewhere in the city. But he said that the city was ultimately limited in what it could do.

“This is a lease between two private entities. The city can’t make the mall lease to them,” Sywak said.

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