The community has rallied round owner Marck Sarfati, who has been operating his newsstand in Whole Foods’ parking lot for 28 years.
Marck Sarfati is as much of a fixture in Brentwood as the fixtures that hold up his 90-foot long newsstand that abuts the west end of the Whole Foods parking lot on San Vicente Boulevard.
The 66-year-old owns one of the few remaining outdoor newsstands in the city, where he offers up over 3,500 titles. “We are the largest and most famous newsstand in the city,” Sarfati told Brentwood News. The business is his only source of income and it pays the bills for his 96-year-old father, Nic, a Holocaust survivor. Sarfati has leased the property where he sells magazines, newspapers and cigarettes for the past 28 years. But that’s all about to change. Whole Foods has denied the extension of Sarfati’s lease and has given him until Sept. 30 to quit the premises.
The space where Sarfati plies his trade was originally owned by Westward Ho. Whole Foods bought it 20 years ago, and Sarfati renegotiated his lease with Whole Foods for another 10 years. Over the last 15 years, Sarfati has continued to have his lease extended by Whole Foods in five year increments.
In February, Sarfati sent a standard email to Whole Foods six months ahead of his lease renewal, asking yet again for his routine lease extension.
“It took me six weeks to get a response,” he said. “[Whole Foods Corporate Office in Austin, Texas], hemmed and hawed and said people were out of town.”
Finally, on March 27, Whole Foods Market Real Estate Asset Manager April Pierson sent an email to Sarfati thanking him for “being a partner over the years.” The email then went on to state: “We have seriously considered your request for additional term (sic) and unfortunately, it was concluded that it is time to make some changes at the store and with the parking situation. Therefore your lease will expire per its terms on Sept. 30, 2017.”
Sarfati said the terms “the parking situation” and “some changes at the store” were so vague he tried to get more information from Pierson. It took him several more weeks to get Pierson on the phone. “[Pierson] said my customers occupy too many parking spaces a day. I tried to tell them my customers are your customers. They’re in and out in two minutes. A lot of them pick up a magazine and then go into Whole Foods.”
Brentwood News verified this trend after spending several hours at the newsstand last week. Of the 15 parking spots in front of the stand, most were empty. A steady stream of customers stopped to purchase magazines, but most grabbed their publications and drove off very quickly, or went into Whole Foods. Any additional time spent at the stand was to sign a petition to save the newsstand.
Sarfati said he doesn’t believe the “parking situation” is the issue. By removing Sarfati’s narrow 36-inch deep strip where he sells his magazines, “all Whole Foods can do is move the cars up by five feet. It won’t solve the parking problems or create additional parking spaces,” he said.
Amazon’s surprise announcement on June 16 that it had purchased Whole Foods, came right before Brentwood News went to press, so it was unclear whether it had anything to do with Whole Foods’ decision regarding the newsstand. Rather, Sarfati believes his possible eviction may have something to do with the Brentwood Whole Foods Store Manager Amy LaBoube, holding a grudge against him. Two years ago, Sarfati’s 90-foot awning was badly damaged in a windstorm and it took time for him to find a company that could make an awning large enough to replace the damaged one.
“Amy was angry, came out and complained and told us I had to get it fixed right away.” Because it took a couple of weeks, Sarfati said he suddenly received a three day fix it or quit ticket. Although the issue was ultimately resolved, Sarfati believes LaBoube has wanted him out ever since.
Following the eviction letter, Sarfati said LaBoube told his employees that they’re not welcome in the store, after one of them went in to break money for change.
Brentwood News spoke with LaBoube who said, “It has nothing to do with the freaking awning.” Rather, she said, “I’ve been here seven years trying to do the right thing by the community, and my greatest complaint from customers is that there’s not enough parking. It’s not that there aren’t enough parking spaces [by Sarfati’s stand], it’s that people like to park and stay and hang out and read the magazines at the stand during lunch hour, which is when we are at our busiest.”
LaBoube said while she had not actually stood out in the lot or conducted any studies to see if these claims were true, she said “parking” was the main issue.
She also said that “Unfortunately [Sarfati] is in a dying business and my sincere hope is that he can find another place. That’s why we’ve given him six months.” She did concede, though, that she had no idea of the financials regarding Sarfati’s business.
Asked if there was some way to magically create another 15 parking spaces for the Whole Foods lot, whether she’d be fine with Sarfati staying put, LaBoube said, “I’m not not fine with him staying now, but this is a tiny store that does a whole lot of business.”
LaBoube referred Brentwood News to Whole Foods Executive Marketing Coordinator Marci Frumkin, who did not return requests for comment prior to going to press.
Sarfati said CD 11 Councilmember Mike Bonin might be able to help halt his eviction. Bonin recently stopped by the stand to sign the petition and Sarfati said Bonin might be able to have the newsstand space declared a historical landmark, which would make it impossible for him to be evicted.
Bonin told Brentwood News in a statement, “The Brentwood Newsstand is a community treasure and the Sarfatis’ story exemplifies the American dream. I’m joining the thousands of neighbors in Brentwood and other nearby neighborhoods to urge Whole Foods’ management to reconsider their decision and allow the Brentwood Newsstand to stay at its current location.”
Regarding the possibility of declaring the newsstand a historical landmark, a spokesperson for Bonin said, “We are exploring the possibility.”
Meanwhile, people continue to stop by the newsstand to sign the petition. One woman who works in PR who didn’t wish to give her name, picked up a slew of magazines and said, “I’ve been coming here the last three years. This is the most reliable newsstand for buying up to date publications. I come here every day. I also love local places. I hope they save it.”
Julian Auzenne, Martin Ramos and Elvis Guerra who work in the building next door to Whole Foods, had just picked up lunch at the grocery store and stopped by to sign the petition. “We’re here to support Marck,” Ramos said. Auzenne pointed at the fixtures and poles that hold up Sarfati’s stand and said, “Unless they’re changing all these poles to stripper poles, we want to keep the newsstand.”
Katie Leary said, “I want to voice my displeasure [at the eviction]. I’ve lived here my whole life. It’s one of the great things about this city. We lost Westward Ho and Dutton’s [bookstore]. This doesn’t need to happen. They need to save it. If there’s a protest, let me know!”
Leary was in luck. Sarfati has indeed planned a protest from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sat. June 24. “In honor of my father’s 96th birthday that day,” he said.
At press time, Sarfati had collected over 3,100 signatures both at his stand and online, via a petition on Change.org. Scores of locals and celebrities who frequent the stand have stopped by to sign the petition, including Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman and Henry Winkler. Sarfati said he plans to send the signatures to Whole Foods management and to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. He’s also printed up t-shirts that he and his employees have been wearing. The white tees are emblazoned with large green lettering that read: Save Brentwood Newsstand. He’s also created bright yellow placards that stand proudly in front of his stand, proclaiming, “Being Evicted By Whole Foods” “28 Years Here” and “Boycott Whole Foods.”
Said Sarfati, “I’m not going down without a fight.”
Whole Foods corporate offices did not respond to requests from Brentwood News prior to publication.
Click here to sign the petition.