Danny Johnson received a letter in early November that prompted him to slide it across the counter of the AIDS Assistance Thrift Store and toward a co-worker.
“Would you read this aloud, please?” he asked. “Because I can’t tell if I am seeing double or something.”
The notice, sent by Christopher Han, son of the store’s landlord David Han, said the store had one week to formally respond to renew their lease, which would increase their monthly rent from $3,300 to $9,000.
“It was as shocking as it was amusing,” Johnson said. “Clearly he didn’t know the law: If you raise the rent more than 10%, you have to provide that business time to respond—not a week. So I sent him a letter, obviously explicit that we could not afford what was being offered and instead, counter-offered by saying we would happily accept a 10% raise in our rent. That … That didn’t quite work out.”
According to Johnson, the Hans sent back a letter quoting their lease agreement that permitted the hike. What alarmed Johnson was that the dates and numbers of the quoted agreement were off. For example, Johnson said the quoted agreement noted the store moved into the space in 1999 when they actually moved in around mid-2000.
“We already had a lawyer by this point, who had asked to see our lease,” Johnson said. “So I asked the Hans for a copy of the lease they were quoting. The next letter was an eviction notice.”
Christopher Han referred questions to his dad. In a brief phone interview, David Han confirmed the tenant asked for a 10% rent increase, but said that $9,000 is “market rate according to my realtor” and that he couldn’t see why the tenants are upset.
The story of gentrification in Long Beach is both complicated and emotionally exhausting. While some spaces might be saved in the name of adaptive re-use—the Acres of Books site, for example, might be returned to its original roots as a market when it is incorporated into the massive Broadway Block development—others don’t fare so well.
The AIDS Assistance Thrift Store has been operating in the city for 28 years, the majority of those years spent at its location along Fourth Street, appropriately next to the city’s LGBTQ Center. For the past 19 years—and the decade before at its original store along Seventh Street at Junipero Avenue—the space at 2011 E. Fourth St. has acted as a haven for those living with HIV/AIDS.
“We formed the store to provide clients in both Long Beach and the surrounding area with services,” Johnson said. “For example, many can receive vouchers through medical institutions—St. Mary’s C.A.R.E. program or through the city’s health department, for example—and they can use those vouchers for clothes, household items, and the such.”
It doesn’t stop there: The store helps with life essentials, like eyeglass prescriptions and battery replacements for electric wheelchairs. They even help with funeral, cremation and celebration of life services.
According to Johnson, the space was anything but hospitable: Mice, rats, leaks, termite, broken windows, bad plumbing and more plagued the space. Johnson said they never complained, however, for fear that they may get evicted.
Seeking help from Basta, a local nonprofit that handles tenant and homelessness issues, Johnson was told by his attorneys that the battle would be long and hard and it was perhaps best to find a new home.
“I like to think that maybe the universe was telling me we deserved better,” Johnson said.
And, in a change of events, their new location on Anaheim Street near Temple Avenue has proved beneficial, with Johnson noting that while it is half the size, it “doesn’t have leaks, doesn’t have broken windows, and our landlord is great and cares about us.”
However, the move and the changes have not been cheap, prompting Johnson to create a GoFundMe and ask the public directly for money for the first time ever.
“We’ve never asked for a dime,” Johnson said. “Of course, we would ask for donations for coats during the winter and have a fundraiser here and there but we’ve never really just asked directly for money. But we really need some help because we operate on a shoestring—the unplanned and forced relocation has just drained us of our financial reserves.”
As the organization quickly approaches its third decade in providing services, Johnson remains hopeful.
“We’ll be here for as long as we’re needed—I’ll make sure of that.”
The AIDS Assistance Thrift Store is located at 2749 E. Anaheim St.
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