For more than two decades, the Fox Theatre flourished on Inglewood’s Market Street. But today, it sits tattered, empty, and unused, like many of the storefronts on Market Street, which was once the vibrant, go-to spot for shopping and entertainment in the South Bay.
“For lease” signs are posted on shuttered storefronts with ripped awnings. Christmas lights and three mannequins are all that’s left in one vacant boutique; Fred’s Discount Store is closed; a sign at a former home and furniture store announces the business’s new location—in Lynwood. Faded but charming facades alternate with dirt lots.
But with professional sports returning to Inglewood and homes suddenly in demand, will Market Street thrive again?
“The goal is to make Market Street in the image of Old Town Pasadena,” says Inglewood Mayor James Butts.
The Fox opened in 1949 with 1,008 seats, and in addition to hosting premieres, it operated as a first-run movie house where major film companies and distributors screened films before their official release. Clever design features included automatic opening lobby doors, air conditioning, and a soundproof room called the “cry room” for mothers with small children.
It wasn’t just the Fox. The street was home to a United Artist Theater, markets, and a plethora of mom and pop shops, and it bustled. There was a three-level JC Penney, extravagant holiday window displays, and a trolley that ran through downtown.
“Inglewood was the place to be if you were a retailer,” says Diane Sambrano, longtime Inglewood resident and president of the Historical Society of Centinela Valley.
The Fox closed its doors in the late 1980s, along with the other businesses and department stores, driven out by crime and the crack-cocaine epidemic, Butts says. In 1999, the Lakers and Kings moved out, and in 2013, Hollywood Park closed its doors. The loss of those institutions helped decimate foot traffic and business along Market Street.
The revival of Market Street might start with coffee and food.
Sip and Sonder opened its doors last fall, offering high-quality coffee and a community space. It hosts a variety of events, including open mic nights, black cinema nights, game nights, and panels discussing how to build brick and mortar businesses, specifically in downtown Inglewood.
The cafe fills up with young professionals working on their laptops and serves as a meeting spot, with R&B music playing in the background. It’s one of several black-owned coffee shops that have opened in the area over the last year.
“A coffee shop typically represents a shift in a change in the neighborhood,” says co-owner Shanita Nicholas. “When you have businesses that reflect who you are, it’s the ability for growth to be really impactful and positive and create additional resources and representation for even more businesses.”
Butts says Sip and Sonder, and other eateries along the street, including Rusty Pot Cafe and vegan restaurant Stuff I Eat marks “an evolution in the type of dining that is coming back to Market Street.”
If Market Street is going to become like downtown Pasadena, it will need to build apartments and condos over the shops, says Butts.
On the corner of Market and Florence Avenue, Thomas Safran and Associates is building a 260,012 foot-square mixed-use complex called Inglewood Market Gateway. Designed by Withee Malcolm Architects, it’s set to have 242 market-rate units and three restaurants, five retail spaces, and a grocery store on the lower level.
The city of Inglewood also plans to build an automated tram that would link the Crenshaw Line’s Market Street stop to the Forum and the NFL stadium—the future home of the Rams and Chargers.
Despite those plans and the new cafes and restaurants, Emma Arrazola, who owns Emma’s Snack Shop on Market Street, says businesses are still closing down, and foot traffic has dwindled.
Arrazola and others say businesses have closed either because rents are too high or owners have simply retired. The owner of a wig shop says she’s closing down because there aren’t enough customers.
Those still in operation are mostly clothing and beauty supply stores, plus a few restaurants, a bookstore, graphic design companies, a bank, and a church of scientology.
Arrazola says she has thought about leaving as she sees other business shutting down or relocating to other cities. That sometimes worries Arrazola, whose rent has increased too, but not enough to make her want to leave.
“What can you do about it?” she says. “I wouldn’t want to leave, but we also don’t own the building.”
(From 2016, when construction started on the NFL stadium, to 2019, rents on Market Street increased by about 12.5 percent, according to CoStar. That’s a bit higher than the countywide average of 10.5 percent.)
It’s not just the $2.6 billion NFL stadium, which is set to open next summer. The city of Inglewood and the Clippers are planning to build an NBA arena; the Crenshaw/LAX line will have three stations in the city, when it’s running next year; and a massive residential and shopping complex is underway at Hollywood Park.
“Inglewood certainly has become a real part of the conversation in commercial real estate in LA,” says Katie Bernhisel, of Cushman and Wakefield.
But Bernhisel has worked with clients on Market Street since 2014, and she says the strip still has a long way to go.
The street has “a handful of amazing destination places,” including the Miracle Theatre, Stuff I Eat, and Sip and Sonder, but it’s not viewed as walkable. People are “not going to walk up and down Market Street because [their] destinations are on different blocks,” she says.
Bernhisel says she hasn’t seen the tenants she works with forced out because of rising rents. “The market rental rates in the area are still very subjective [and] can really vary from owner to owner,” she says.
Across from Emma’s Snack Shop, Darien Jackson sits in front of Cox Men’s Wear, where he’s worked for more than two decades. Suits, fedoras and dress shirts are neatly placed throughout the store.
Jackson often sits outside with a portable speaker, holding conversations with passersby and community members, as he waits for customers. Everyone calls him “Wood” because he’s lived in Inglewood for nearly 40 years.
He comments on how not just Market Street but Inglewood as a city has changed and how housing costs have skyrocketed.
“You got to change with it, because if you don’t change, you’ll get left out,” he says. “All the poor people, we’re about to get left out, that’s just how it is.”
Butts says businesses close “every day in every city.”
“Businesses that have a desirable product that can sustain the operating costs of the business, and that includes leasing costs, not only survive, they thrive,” he says. “The only thing in Inglewood that’s changing is everything.”