Long Beach, News

Business closures change the face of Retro Row

Earlier this summer, two businesses on 4th Street’s iconic “Retro Row” were forced to close their doors, causing controversy within the community.

Portfolio Coffeehouse and Scholb Premium Ales Long Beach had been neighboring tenants for just three years before posting their closing dates and final goodbyes to their customers via Instagram.

Portfolio Coffeehouse, a local staple, had been in business on the corner of Fourth and Junipero since 1990. For many residents, the coffeehouse served as their daily pick-me-up, hangout spot and community center.

“I’ve been going to that coffee shop since I was 19 years old; I’m now 48,” said Songbird Boutique owner and 4th Street Board member Jennifer Hill. “I moved away to San Francisco for about 10 years, and still, whenever I would come back to visit, I would always get coffee at Portfolio.”

Sarah Sanchez, a current employee at The Hangout, shared similar sentiments about Portfolio.

“It was the first coffee house I discovered when I moved here six years ago, and I still [would] go,” she said.

Salemi’s remodeling plans for the buildings on 4th and
Salemi’s remodeling plans for the buildings on 4th and Junipero. Photo credit: Jaylen Minnich

Luckily, Portfolio had the means to move its business just down the street, on 4th and Cherry, from its original location. The new space is currently under construction and will combine their two businesses, Portfolio Coffeehouse and Berlin Bistro.

However, the new kid on the block, Scholb Premium Ales Long Beach, couldn’t take on the same financial burden. The business was open in Long Beach for three years before closing. The good food, good brews and welcoming atmosphere had gained popularity amongst the local community. Many felt the impact of their closure alongside Portfolio.

“It was a great addition to the neighborhood,” said a Long Beach local who chose to remain anonymous. “My friends and I would go to get a beer and enjoy the happy hour like once a week. A lot of the people who worked there were my friends.”

Christian Valverde, a student at Long Beach State and 4th Street resident, said he was devastated by the news of Scholb’s closure.

“It was a great place to unwind, grab a bite and watch a game; everything I had there was delicious,” he added. “I’m really bummed to see it go.”

With the positive support from the community, many questioned the closures of the two businesses. But Scholb Premium Ales made it clear that the sudden stoppages weren’t out of lack of business.

In their Instagram farewell, Scholb brought attention to Portfolio’s past legal battle with their shared landlord, Michael Salemi, over disputes regarding increasing rent prices, contractual obligations, and a cease and assist letter. Scholb also stated that their own issues with Salemi were “irreconcilable.”

Inside the empty Scholb Premium Ales building.
Inside the empty Scholb Premium Ales building. Photo credit: Jaylen Minnich

Salemi of JMS Development explained that the legal dispute between himself and Portfolio owner, Kerstin Kansteiner, was unwanted but necessary.

“She was a great tenant,” he said. “I had a great relationship with her for many, many years, and it just kind of went sour.”

However, the relationship between Salemi and Jason Kolb, owner and head brewer of Scholb Premium Ales, was compromised by the closures.

Scholb Premium Ales was subleasing the restaurant space from a previous business owner who had a master lease with Michael Salemi. Salemi explained that originally, the master lease owner pitched a Japanese noodle restaurant for the space, but it ultimately didn’t work out. When presented with the idea of Scholb Premium Ales, he admitted to not immediately being on board.

“I said no, I don’t want a beer establishment on the corner,” Salemi said. “I said, ya know it’s just, not me.”

Ultimately Scholb Premium Ales took the space over, and the business relationship between Salemi and Kolb was a positive one.

“We [Scholb] were looking pretty good,” Kolb said. “Our chef, Jason, was coming out with new dishes, we were doing beer dinners…we had a group of ukulele players that would come out every ‘Fourth Friday’…all sorts of fun.”

Former building of Portfolio Coffeehouse is repainted by a worker.
Former building of Portfolio Coffeehouse is repainted by a worker. Photo credit: Jaylen Minnich

But in 2020, the master lease of the previous building owner expired. Therefore, an extension request was needed in order for Scholb to keep their sublease.

Kolb alleges that a request for extension was given within the mandatory timeframe by the master lease owner through an informal conversation with Salemi as well as through an email. However, no written confirmation of the request being received or approved was given to any party.

That June, Kolb received news from Salemi that the lease extension was ungranted. Both parties allege to have differing documentations that prove or disprove the validity of a lease extension.

At that point, Kolb asked Salemi if there was anything they could do to stay.

“We talked to him really honestly, like hey, what are we doing wrong? What should we do better? Do you want more money?” Kolb said. “He just wanted us out.”

Salemi said he “just wanted to develop the property.”

Before documents from the master lease owner were exchanged, Salemi claimed to have apologized to Kolb when he thought it was himself who had made a mistake about the lease.

“I said, oh my god, well, maybe I’m old, and I just didn’t know that. Could you send me the copies?” Salemi said.

The landlord alleged that the documents he received were invalid.

“He was very upset, but it wasn’t on me,” Salemi said.

The truth about the dispute continues to be hearsay. Nonetheless, it has caused a rift between the community, with some frustrated about the closures and others excited for what’s to come.

“I hate it, I miss them dearly,” said Jennifer Hill regarding Portfolio Coffeehouse. “What’s going to go there? How are they going to be able to last when a landlord isn’t playing by their rules? Is he going to rent to a large corporation?”

Hill also expressed concerns about the lack of foot traffic since the closure, affecting her business negatively.

“It just sets a whole new vibe for down here,” she said. “I kind of feel like I’m out on my own now, when I always had an anchor right next to me because it was a real cornerstone for the community.”

Two “Retro Row” residents of 25 years and neighbors of Salemi, who opted to remain anonymous, said that the situation was disappointing and not what 4th Street is about.

“Thankfully, she [Kerstin Kansteiner] is a very affluent member of the community and had the resources [to move], but for somebody like Scholb, it’s just not fair when you don’t give them any option, and very little notice,” one local said.

Others in the community feel that closures could bring positive change and a new dynamic to the street.

Dee Hayes, an employee at La Bomba Thrift, believes Portfolio’s move could be necessary for their business growth.

“There’s a lot of things that could be positive about it. They kind of outgrew their space. Now that they have a new setup maybe they can have a to-go window, or more parking,” she said. “The owner over there has lots of good ideas, I don’t see why she can’t make it ten times better.”

Kevin Alcaraz, co-owner of Plantiitas, said Portfolio would be missed, but wished the best for them.

“If they’re doing something bigger, on this side too, then that’s good and exciting,” Alcaraz said. “It sucks for the brewery though.”

In regard to the future of the locations, Salemi said he wants to establish a “gourmet corner”.

He said he wants restaurants that are diverse to the area and add a high-end feel. Some options he mentioned were Mediterranean, Italian or a pizza joint.

“I’ve had five offers already that were all turned down,” he said. “I’m being very selective.”

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