Kevin Cody

Hermosa Beach Teenmageddon averted, but businesses not happy

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Taylor Swift received the Icon Award. The board was shaped by Dennis Jarvis of Spyder Surfboards and depicts her three cats. Photo by Harold Cohen

by Kevin Cody

On Aug. 2, nine days before the Teen Choice Awards were broadcast nationally on Fox from a stage on the beach south of the Hermosa pier., Steve Collins received a call at home from his Hermosa Cyclery partner Larry Burke, who was working at their downtown Hermosa store.

“He was so flustered that when I asked who was he talking to, he said, ‘I’m talking to you.’ I meant who’s got you so flustered. Let me talk to her,” Collins said.

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Burke put Leanne Singleton on the phone. Singleton is a City of Hermosa environmental analyst. She told him the streets leading to Hermosa Cyclery would be closed the day of the Teen Choice Awards for security reasons. A letter mailed to downtown businesses and residences, dated Thursday, August 1, confirmed what Collins said Singleton said. Downtown from 10th Street on the south and 14th Street on the north and from Hermosa Avenue on the east to The Strand on the west would be “closed to the public,” the letter stated.

Hermosa Cyclery, The Deck bar, and the Burrito Brothers, Slater’s 50-50, Scottys and Good Stuff restaurants were in the cordoned-off area.

“I asked Singleton, ‘Was there a meeting about this six months ago that I should have gone to?’ She said no. ‘Was there a meeting a few weeks ago, I should have attended? She said no. ‘Are there going to be meetings where I can offer my input?’ She said no.”

“I was dumbfounded. A day in August is worth a month in winter. And they were closing us down,” Collins said.

Collins began “going up the ladder” at City Hall with emails to Community Resources Manager Kelly Orta, Planning Director Ken Robertson and finally City Manager Suja Lowenthal.

“Lowenthal responded that she would check with the production company to see what could be done. But the clock was ticking and nothing was getting done,” Collins said.

A spokesperson for the Hermosa provided a statement saying that they did not tell any business that it had to close.

City staff told all businesses they could stay open and worked with them to ensure this was possible. For the Deck and Hermosa Cyclery, the staff made adjustments in the initial plans for the security perimeter to ensure public access to both businesses, the statement said.”

Deck co-owner Kathy Knoll gave Collins a contact for a woman named Sheryl at the Teen Choice Awards production company.

“I called Sheryl,” Collins recalled, “I said, ‘You are essentially blockading our businesses.’ She offered to keep 13th Street open until 2 p.m. the day of the event. I said, ‘That’s not okay.’ Then she got preachy, talking about the importance of security. Evidently, we were on speakerphone because a male voice came on and asked, ‘Do you own the streets?’

“I was rocked back on my heels. ‘I have a right to keep my business open.’ I said, ‘You’re a multi-million-dollar business and you expect a mom and pop to underwrite your security. When I said that it got quiet for so long, I asked, ‘Are you still there?’ Finally, someone said, “Talk to the city,’” Collins said.

The city attempted to shift boundaries in response to business concerns. On the Tuesday before the awards event, Community Resources Director Kelly Orta told the Parks and Rec Commission that a boundary change had been engineered that day.

“The Strand is now only going to be closed from 10th Street to the border of Slater’s 5050. So it’s not going to go all the way up to 14th Street, which was the original plan. So that is really opening up The Strand north of the Pier to allow all our residents and guests to enjoy restaurants and the hotel, the downtown area, and Hermosa Cyclery,” Orta said.

But on Sunday, The Strand was still blocked at 14th Street.

“Come last Friday, I realized this thing was baked in. No one was budging on the blockade,” Collins said. “Sunday morning, the day of the event, security was blocking people from walking down 13th Street. But after we twice told security that the production company said 13th Street was to be open until 2 p.m., security began letting people through.”

Collins said business on the day of the Teen Choice Awards was down 30 to 40 percent from this summer’s previous Sundays.

“But in fairness to the city, we were only down 17 percent from the same Sunday in 2018, when there was a beach concert.”

On the positive side, Collins said, Hermosa Avenue looked like CicLAvia, events when streets are closed to car traffic.

“The South Bay Bike Coalition tried for years to bring a CicLAvia here, but we gave up because it was going to be too costly to shut down the streets,” he said.

Kids climbed the beach swingsets to get an unobstructed view of the Teen Choice Awards on Sunday. Photos by Kevin Cody

To accommodate Sunday’s bicyclists, Collins set up a bike corral at the corner of Pier and Hermosa avenues. By the 5 p.m. showtime, it was filled with over 500 bikes.

The only cars on the Hermosa Avenue on Sunday were approximately two dozen black Suburban limos, some ferrying stars to the show, parked where downtown business customers would normally park.

An enclosure designed to contain 10,000 fans was erected on the beach in front of a towering stage. Hermosa police posted observers on rooftops and brought in bomb-sniffing K9s from Inglewood Police, and SWAT teams from Hawthorne and Redondo Beach.

On Thursday, 3,000 free tickets set aside for local residents were quickly snapped up. People began lining up on the lawn of Hermosa’s Community Center shortly after midnight. Another 7,000 free tickets were distributed online.

No one knew how many thousands more might come to Hermosa in hopes of seeing the show’s honorees. They included Avengers: End Game star Robert Downey Jr., pop stars The Jonas Brothers and singer Taylor Swift. The outspoken Swift would receive the Teen Choice Icon Award from Alex Morgan, a star on the U.S. National World Cup championship team, Swift has expressed support for the soccer team’s advocacy for gender equality in pay.

Kevin Barry is a partner in The Deck bar on The Strand, across Beach Drive from Hermosa Cyclery. Not until Sunday morning, he said, was he able to convince security to open a strip of The Strand leading to the Deck’s front door. At lunchtime his patio was empty of customers, despite the sunny weather. Inside, fewer than a dozen customers were eating.

Early Sunday afternoon, Hennessey’s Tavern owner Paul Hennessey looked from his Pier Plaza patio at the Teen Choice Awards red carpet tent and thought what might have been. His patio was not quite full and inside was half empty.

“Teen Choice approached me about hosting a party for 600 VIP guests. I said sure. But the city shot it down because they said they didn’t want to ‘intensify alcohol consumption.’ This from a city that approved a beer garden in the parking lot behind my business for the next two weekends’ beach concerts,” Hennessey said.

Fans line up on 10th Street while waiting to have their bags checked before being admitted to the Teen Choice Awards. Photo by Kevin Cody

City Manager Suja Lowenthal said in a statement that Hennessey’s claims were untrue.

“The city didn’t prevent Hennessey’s from hosting the VIP party. As we understand it, there were negotiations with the production company, and they couldn’t reach an agreement,” Lowenthal said.

A spokesperson for Bob Bain Productions, the company that produced the awards, did not return requests for comment.

Comedy and Magic Club owner Mike Lacey contemplated closing Sunday evening because of concerns that his customers wouldn’t be able to get to his Hermosa Avenue club. But he couldn’t because by the time he learned of the street closures he had already sold out. His guest Sunday night was former Tonight Show host Jay Leno.

“I was worried Jay might not be able to get to the club. Finally, I called the Teen Choice promoter, who told me, if necessary, they’d have their security escort him to the club. Which was nice. But I wish there had been more communications with the downtown businesses,” Lacey said.

Pier Plaza remained open Sunday, but the red carpet tent occupied the west end.

Plaza restaurant owner Ron Newman said sales at his Baja Sharkeez, Palmilla and Tower 12 were below normal, but that given the scale of the street closures, he was “surprised we did the business we did.”

All businesses suffered from the decision to surrender parking lots in the downtown area, including Parking Lot A south of Pier Plaza, which was partially occupied by the production crew starting last Monday, and fully closed off Thursday through Sunday.

“Not having the parking was totally ridiculous. Our staff couldn’t find a place to park. They were late for work,” Newman said.

The City’s August 1 letter to businesses advised employees who park in the parking structure that “due to the closing of Hermosa Avenue, vehicles will be inaccessible and must be parked prior to 11 a.m. and will not be allowed to leave until 9 p.m. when Hermosa Avenue opens.”

Paul Hennessey expresses his dismay over his half-empty Pier Avenue bar on Sunday afternoon. He blamed the poor business on downtown street blockades.

Newman said the Teen Choice Awards compared unfavorably to other events that require closing the parking lots, such as the AVP Hermosa Open volleyball tournament and Fiesta Hermosa. While those events produce streams of customers over multiple days, the Teen Choice Awards required an extensive set-up period for an event that only lasted two hours.

Other businesses echoed these complaints. Event producers said that they would be encouraging set-up crews to patronize local businesses, but most restaurants said that they either did not see a lunch bump or that it was masked by the declines in other customers. Employees at Hennessey’s Tavern said the days leading up to the event were slower than normal, likely due to the loss of parking, and that sales were down by thousands of dollars. Even the day of the event was quiet until the hours before the show began. Employees at businesses farther east on Pier Avenue, including Rockefeller and Hook & Plow, also said that they had staffed up in expectation of busy days, but that business on Sunday was below normal.

Newman and other Plaza business owners placed some of the blame on the city. But they also directed their ire at the event producer. Michael Santomieri, owner of Greenbelt, wrote on Facebook, “the production company called all the shots,” and said the set-up was “over the top intrusive.”

In a statement, Mayor Stacey Armato said that the city was aware of the concerns raised by businesses, and that “our priority is now to get everyone’s feedback and learn from the experience.” Armato and Councilmember Justin Massey, who form the council’s downtown subcommittee, will join city staff in a meeting with business owners next Wednesday morning.

Among those attending will be Dennis Jarvis. Jarvis, the owner of Spyder Surfboards, made the suggestion to Teen Choice producer Bob Bain, a Manhattan Beach friend, that the awards be presented on the beach in Hermosa, rather than at a traditional venue, as in previous years. Jarvis even made the surfboards that are handed out instead of statuettes at the Teen Choice Awards. But Jarvis also has a surf shop on Pier Plaza and business on Sunday was down significantly, he said.

“They didn’t need to take up all the parking and shut down the streets,” he said.

La Playita Mexican Restaurant is usually jammed on summer Sundays. But this past Sunday, breakfast, and lunch were down 50 percent. Owner Harold Cohen blamed the slowdown on the street closures. His restaurant is on 14th Street, between Hermosa Avenue and The Strand. 

Because business was slow, after lunch, Cohen and his daughter Danielle, who also works at the restaurant, walked down to the event’s 10th Street entrance. There, on an impulse, Cohen asked an official if there were any tickets available. Scalpers had been asking as much as $500 for the free tickets. The owner of the Mint Salon, Cohen’s 14th Street neighbor, paid $200 for two tickets so he could take his daughter to the event.

The line to enter the Teen Choice Awards began forming Sunday morning and ran for two blocks along Hermosa Avenue and halfway down Pier Plaza. Another 100 teenagers were lined up on the sidewalk in front of the Comedy and Magic Club. They were children of the show’s crew and their friends who had been selected for their camera appeal to stand directly in front of the stage.

But when the gates opened, the corral designed for 10,000 looked to be only about three-quarters full. The crowd on the beach behind the corral numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands many had anticipated. 

“The woman I asked for tickets from said, ‘Sure. How many do you want? I said two and she gave me two,” Cohen said. “The show was great. Taylor Swift nailed it with her talk. But it did cost me a few thousand dollars in lost business,” he said.

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