Casa de Sousa getting evicted


When I stop and think about days of future past and dealing with landlords evicting my family and I from our home/apartment, I remember what it felt like. To have to turn off everything in the house/apartment to make it seem like no one was home. Getting on all floors and looking through the crevace the bottom of the door waiting for the shadows to leave all the while hearing knocking on the door and the manager say, “when are you going to pay your rent ? I know you’re in there. You need to pay soon or else I’m going to have to kick you out of the house/apartment.” I felt that same feeling of uncertainty when I was talking to Conchita Sousa and Fernando Cruz about Cafe Casa de Sousa receiving an eviction notice from the manager in charge of the Placita Olvera merchants and stores.  However the circumstances and reasons for Casa de Sousa receiving that eviction notice last week still remain unclear because no one from the management has given them a proper reason for the notice, even after Sousa and Cruz tried talking to them to come to reasonable out come and work things out civily. No dice.

Since no one outside the management and powers that be that govern them, I.E. the city of L.A., there are a number of rumers and accusations going on within the Olvera merchants themselves and supporters of the cafe, buts that’s all they are, chisme. Over the last few weeks there have been stories about the rent control problems facing stores and merchants at Olvera st. Downtown L.A. News reports that part of the issue is rent control. A lot of the stores and merchants at Olvera St. have been there for generations and help make Olvera St. the tourist hot spot it is now through decades of dedication and families passing on the family business from one generation to another. Conchita, her family and the Sousa coffee house have been there since the ’30s and have established themselves as historical, cultural and authentic representaion of Mexican, American and Chicano roots.

Because the majority of these stores and shops have been around this long, the city wants to have them pay the current market value of their shops and stores and stop subsidizing them because it’s spending around a million dollars filling in the gaps from rents.  Ed reports from Blog Downtown that,“Rents on Olvera street have been a hot topic in recent weeks, with the City Council looking at increases as a way to end the General Fund subsidy of the El Pueblo monument. Councilmembers criticized El Pueblo for failing to have current leases with tenants, hoping that rental agreements closer to market rate could generate an extra $250,000 per year. The eviction notice claims the space is operating without a concession agreement, which computes payments based on a percentage of sales on food and beverage. Different than the concession agreement is Casa De Sousa’s lease on the space, which Sousa’s mother signed in 1999. “It’s a complicated situation,” said Sousa, adding that the fact that her shop is not strictly retail nor strictly a restaurant has led to confusion on how it should be treated. Sousa disputed that claim, and said that she doesn’t recall any expiration date on a concession agreement signed in 1985.”

An editorial from the L.A. Times explains the rent cituation better than I can, “For nearly two decades now, El Pueblo has been a city department, charged with, among other things, recouping expenses by managing the attraction properly. It has a long way to go, according to an audit by the city controller’s office published last month, just before new Controller Wendy Greuel took office. Chief among the problems: Olvera Street merchants are paying well below market rents. It’s time to update the street, and the city’s relationship with its merchants, by letting the market set the rates. Some merchants argue that low rents make sense, given the city’s sometimes spotty record as a landlord. But the city’s performance is something the market would take into account. Others argue that their puestos, or market stalls, have been in their families since Olvera Street opened as a Mexican marketplace in 1930, and that their stewardship is what keeps the street from becoming another LA Live or Universal CityWalk. But the city can reset rents and still retain control over the street’s ambience. Longtime merchants have contributed to the monument’s history and culture, but they are not, after all, historic resources that the city has an obligation to subsidize in perpetuity.”

Now more than ever Casa de Sousa is looking to its supporters and allies for help. If anyone wants to help, you can write to the mayors and 14th District Council Member Jose Huizar and tell them that they should be helping Casa stay and help make sense of everything that is going on behind the scenes. You can also contact Conchita and Fernando att the shop or email them at Now more than ever they need our support, but as Fernando told me, they are open to change. They know and understand that life takes us strange places and they will not let the essance and spirit of Casa fade out. Over the years Casa has been education kids on eating healthy by giving them workshops, providing a space for Eastside artist to perform and grow as artist and even going all out for Dia de los Muertos with the Muerto Tour. A double decker bus ttaking passangers from one DoD event to another, which was a huge success last year. Not only that, but they’re the BEST place to get your veggie grub on along with their DELISHIOUS chocolate. Casa de Sousa is worth its ight in gold and to let it fade out would be irrisponcible and careless of community members. So do what you can, write, volunteer to help out at Casa and spread the word, Casa isn’t going down without a fight.

You can also listen  to Conchita and Fernando on Up Rising Radio talk more about what happened.

9 thoughts on “Casa de Sousa getting evicted

  1. They always had the best Mexica hot chocolate! They were cool and this sucks! I hope they can open somewhere else.

  2. It seems so weird for the city to throw people out, after they have been in a space for several generations. Politicians, rules and their terms come and go–I am sure Casa de Sousa has had their share of changes in their contract during their 70 years on Olvera Street. Bringing in businesses that can pay the high amounts of rents in that strip will inevitably change the whole concept and quaintness of Olvera Street—it is really sad. It’s double sad for us on the eastside who only have a handful of venues to share our craft in art and music. When the city shuts down Conchita and Fernando at Casa de Sousa, they shut all of us down—y todo por el pinche dinero.

  3. I’ve been an intern at El “Pobre” for the last six weeks with three more to go. Uff! It’s a mess out here! According to the General Manager, they do not intend to raise the merchant rents to absolute market value or bring in new businesses. But shiiiit i’m not that naive! From El Pueblo’s point of view, the City’s broke…surprise!!! El Pueblo as its own city department only generates money from parking while providing a free service to the community and is having a haaarrd time trying to survive. Which I completely understand and have seen the daily struggles. Then they claim there are the merchants workign within El Pueblo and generating profits for themselves based on 55 year leases signed by some of the merchants which are just ridiculous and on some sneaky business! as the leases allowed for the freedom to change hands, losing historical roots. It’s all so much more complicated and sneaky uff!!But the Downtown News is pretty on point. I will start askign questions and make known myyyy point because Ay noooo Cafe de Sousa! I had no ideaaa and I always get my cafe de olla! I’m going to get on thiiiis!

  4. Its okay, a new coffee shop is on its way to Olvera St set to open up in at the plaza end of Olvera St. It is still under construction and being opened by Andy Camacho (same as owner of Camacho’s Cantina and El Paseo). Conspiracy theory anyone? Sorry I know I am just start rumors.

    The issue boils down to the city no longer wanting to pay the operating cost of the monument, which it advocates should be self-sufficient if not raise revenue. And the department has been too mismanaged for decades to run effectively. So now, it is trying to correct itself.

    However, as Cristina said, the issue is much more complicated than it seems. It has been an issue that has plagued the monument for decades. The problem is that for years the monument has not been well managed. An audit last month blasted the Department for its inefficiencies and loss of money. That has had pros and cons for the merchants they have benefitted from low rent, well below market rent and community fees, but to that end, the city has failed to meet and provide improvements for the merchants. However, over the last couple of years the city has been cleaning up its act. To the benefit of the merchants, many improvements have been going into the puestos, maintenance, and security; however, this is not free or inexpensive. It’s been adding to the cost of the monument. Therefore, as the department improves service for the merchants, it can no longer afford to maintain low rent. It has continually had to be subsidies by the city’s General Fund. Which is no problem when the economy is good and money is growing on trees, but as La Crisis started affecting the city’s coffers it could no longer continue to give money to El Pueblo. Therefore, the city and department are looking to the merchant, nonprofits, parking, filming to make up the cost of operating the monument, so that the Department is self-sufficient and can pay for itself without having to go to the city’s general funds. Personally, I think that is fair. The problem is that means the everyone has to chip in a bit more. In addition, as the audit found, a lot of that burden and cost comes on the business at Olvera St. Councilmen Huizar and the Commissioners agree that they should pay on the low end of the market rate spectrum. So as the monument sees improvements and investment, it also faces scrutiny over how its run.

    The editorial from the Times states, “Longtime merchants have contributed to the monument’s history and culture, but they are not, after all, historic resources that the city has an obligation to subsidize in perpetuity.” As the audit found, the city has had to pay the difference of what the merchants pay for community fees and the actual cost of providing them, roughly, $300,000.
    All this adds to the cost of the department, not only does the department receive little revenue from the merchant rent, but also has to pay the cost of maintenance, trash, security, etc.

    The city should make all effort to maintain the family connections to Olvera St, but while trying to provide service its mission of preserving the history and culture. (Which is more complex than most people realize; the area around Olvera St has been part of a Little Italy and the Old Chinatown.) However, I will try to stay on topic, as Cristina said; the department also provides many services to the community for free. Which, include operating the museums and opening them up to the public for free, creating exhibits and publishing educational material. Unfortunately, it also has trouble providing these services. Having last year laid off much of its museum staff and reduced operating hours, due to the fact that it simply could not afford to pay the staff or maintain the hours. Currently, the exhibit, in the Hellman/Quon building is closed which exhibits Californio artifacts and the history of Olvera st, the Water and Christine Sterling exhibit, Second floor of the Firehouse and the David Siqueiros mural are also closed. There is the Gallery by the restroom next to the El Paseo restaurant that have been closed, and various other spaces that are all closed due simply to the fact that the department has been underfunded and is unable to repair, maintain or operate them.

    I apologize if I am ranting here but the issue of merchants and Olvera St is much larger than Casa Sousa. It is about this historical monument that has been neglected, underfunded and mismanaged for years.

    Victoria you say that “When the city shuts down Conchita and Fernando at Casa de Sousa, they shut all of us down—y todo por el pinche dinero.” But unfortunately that what its going to take to really operate this place like it should be. No, not kicking out merchants, but funding to open up the museums and exhibits. I could probably give someone a tour of the Monument and show and tell you thing about things that you never knew existed or happened. Things and history that have been neglected. Nigger Alley, the tunnels, Fort Hill (where in the late 1800 the natives would be lynched), the wineries, the French, Jews, Italians, Chinese, who were the men named, Olvera, Marchessault, Biscailuz whose names adorn the buildings and streets. all history that is lost because no one is there to preserve it and remind people of it. Its going to take funding and investment to make El Pueblo historical monument really live up to its mission. Bu in the course of that mission El Pueblo is going to have to clean itself up and operate itself more efficiently.

    But what does that have to do with the businesses you may ask. Well, many of the business on Olvera st are responsible and well ran, but unfortunately, there are those that are also mismanaged. Businesses that once belonged to a parent are passed to a son or daughter and then ran down to the ground. I.E. the glass blower/ maker, it was started by the father and ran well for many years, then the son took over and was not able to run it well. They were evicted several months ago owing several thousand dollars in back rent when their month rent was a few hundred $200-300. One might argue that, well business was bad and these business don’t make much money, but yet many merchants actually own several different business in Olvera St. I don’t imagine business is so bad that they can afford to operate several businesses. Or if rent is a few hundred dollars in a place that attracts millions of visitors every year and can not afford to pay rent, something is wrong with how the business is operated. Again, many businesses are ran well, efficiently and responsibly. It could just be hearsay but maybe cristina can clarify it, but rumors are that Casa Sousa owes a lot of money in back rent as well.Which brings back the statement already posed by the LA Times, “Longtime merchants have contributed to the monument’s history and culture, but they are not, after all, historic resources that the city has an obligation to subsidize in perpetuity.” At what cost should they city subsidies the merchants if so, at the cost of a longer, deeper and unknown history?

  5. If you designate something as historical, especially something like the original site of the city, you have to expect it to cost money and not be a profit center. Businesses are, to some extent, historical resources. Look at the fondness people on this blog have for many of the old merchants in the Eastside, especially along Whittier.

    If they have to raise rents, it should be done gradually. mom and pop businesses don’t have deep pockets (at least not most of them).

    That said, if a business isn’t making its rent, and it’s less than a dollar a square foot, that’s pretty bad. It’s time to try and correct the situation.

    In the regular rental market, the landlord isn’t obligated to help out its tenants’ businesses. That said, some landlords do try to help out. Perhaps the City can act in this capacity.

    If a business in in arrears for several months, perhaps the City should intervene. Open up the books to some public scrutiny, and get a business consultant to figure out how viable the business is, and suggest changes. It’s a second chance.

  6. Why the Wont the Banks Sell Homes to First Time Home Buyers?

    I have been looking to buy a home for over six months with no luck. I submitted offers on thirty foreclosed homes and the banks have taken the investor’s offers over mine every time. I did not major in business, but I can tell you something is wrong with the housing market. On several occasions I have had the highest offer, but the banks have preferred the investor’s offer over mine because they could afford to put 20% down or pay cash. I am not sure if that is legal, but it does seem unfair. Are the banks discriminating against first time home buyers? We have programs like FHA, but the banks want 20% down and not the 3.5% that is required by FHA. The banks are selling foreclosed homes almost exclusively to investors and then the investors are selling the same homes to first time home buyers after an alarming price hike.

    How many foreclosed homes have the banks sold to investors and to first time home buyers? Is that information made public?

    I keep hearing of programs established to help individuals avoid foreclosures. What about helping the individuals that refused to buy over priced homes and did not enter into loans that they could not afford to pay off? I worked two jobs while working on my undergraduate degree and then went into graduate school, just so I could buy my first home. I deserve the “The American Dream”! My parents moved to the United Sates in their twenties with no money or education. They worked hard and before they turned thirty they already owned their fist home. My credit score is in the high 700’s, I have a long employment history, I have saved a substantial amount for a down payment, and I have absolutely no debt. How is it possible that I can’t buy a home?

    I understand that not all foreclosed homes can be released at the same time, because that would drive down prices, but I can not compete with investors buying all the moderately priced homes. Investors are buying up all the affordable properties in my community and rising up home prices. I can no longer afford to buy a home in my community, the community where I work as a social worker. Banks favor investor’s cash offers over first time home buyers that are vested in the community.

    Are we the next San Francisco? If the government fails to regulate the real estate practices renters will soon out number home owners in the Los Angeles area. Investors are buying all the moderately priced homes in minority communities creating a mass exodus of minorities.

    Investors are displacing entire communities. Where will we go? Who will protect us? Is this the next Chavez Ravine times ten?

    Los Angeles County has flourished because of the middle class. If the average middle class American is unable to buy homes the middle class will continue to disappear.

    Please Help. It doesn’t seem like anybody is listening.

  7. Un saludo a todos especial mente a la senora Sedano,
    espero y no les cierren el cafe, me encanto el reportaje que les hiso el canal 34
    no he tenido el usto de conocer su cafe , ojala y pronto lo pueda visitar
    se despide su amigo Jorge Sedano

  8. As this story unfolds as if a final chapter in a book. Things get a little more interesting on Olvera Street. Casa de Sousa being the first of three merchants now on the chopping block. This historic local seems to have all the ingredients of the American Civil War.

    It has been reported that Casa de Sousa is holding on strong in the midst of a turn of events that may help prove their case to the people, constuants as well as their landlord. In the same El Pueblo commission meeting that Casa de Sousa received no benefit of the doubt in these hard economic times with regard to the many offers having been made to the management for old rent the management has continued to decline as well as new rent with a new business plan.

    What is really going on here. In the last commission meeting the donkey guy Hernandez was given the benefit of the doubt for rent repayment plan instead of eviction. A third merchant now on the chopping block of all people to fall behind in his rent Camacho’s Inc. Thats right Andy Camacho up for eviction for the Simpson Jones Building. Way to take one for the team Andy. This weeks commission meeting will decide what to do more likely in favor of Camacho’s Inc. A good example of the commission playing favorites to Andy Camacho and his new idea for a coffee house. But when it comes to the Sousa family and their 77 year old legacy, the city may go in favor of Andy Camacho. After all at the end of the day it’s about how much money a Olvera Street Merchant can contribute to the next candidate for city council or even for the mayor. I guess the city officials could just turn a blind eye on the more than $16,000 dollars owed by Camacho in rent speculated by some.

    So in these hard economic times its OK to give the Donkey guy Hernandez another chance. It’s OK to give Andy Camacho a chance to catch up on his rent when he has not even opened yet? But Casa de Sousa? Well where is the justice, equality and fair due process for the Sousa family. L.A. City must have a good reason for this and the tax payers deserve to now why. Question everything happening on Olvera Street and you will have to demand answers. Or just show up to the commission meetings. Remember to bring your “Guide to El Pueblo for DUMMIES”. Your gonna need it constituants!

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