BY CLAY JACKSON
Not so long ago, Torrance, Calif., a working-class community of about 147,000—part ofthe patchworkquilt
of communities that make up greater Los
Angeles—had a dozen or so independent
pet shops, according to Tomi Takemoto.
Now Animal Lovers Pet Shop, which
Takemoto owns, is the only one left.
Skyrocketing rent nearly brought Animal Lovers Pet Shop’s 30-year run to an
end in 2016.
As for the others, Takemoto cites competition from big-box pet retailers, the
ease and cost savings of buying online,
and an inability of many independents
to adapt to market realities as reasons for
Lease issues might have been part
of the mix as well, given the razor-thin
margins many small businesses have,
but since the players have already ridden off into the sunset, there’s no one left
to talk to.
Takemoto has been able to adapt competitively, through the years, by continuing
to offer live animals and unique services,
such as reptile, bird and small animal
boarding, and bird grooming.
“Those are the only ones that survive
now—pet stores that specialize in service.
Those are things you can’t get on the in-
ternet,” she said, referring to her store’s
services. “That’s why we’re still here.”
Takemoto had been renting two spac-
es at a strip mall, one housed her pet shop
with live birds and reptiles for sale, while
the second space was for boarding birds
and reptiles for day care or longer.
Early last year, new ownership doubled Takemoto’s rent for her boarding
space from $800 to $1,600 a month.
She and other tenants, she said, were
blindsided and weren’t even aware the
property had been sold.
“Someone apparently purchased the
property, and we were not notified,” she
Takemoto said the only tip-off was
that a management group came in and
started laying down the law.
The new rules “totally destroyed” her
pet store, she added.
“Besides increasing the rent, we said,
‘We can’t operate under these people,’ so
that was our main reason for moving out
In the interim, while she started to look
for another space, she closed her board-
ing business and consolidated everything
into the pet store side, where the rent was
$2,400 a month, plus an $800 triple net fee
for maintenance and other costs assumed
by the lessor.
Takemoto acknowledges that no one
ever said they were going to double the
$2,400-a-month rent in her other space or
increase the monthly $800 triple net fee
she was paying.
But she read the writing on the wall.
“They had not said they were going to
double it, but just by watching the other
stores … leaving … we weren’t going to
wait until they told us they were going to
Takemoto did not want to wait to see
if her January rent was going to jump to
$4,800, something she’d already experi-
enced with her boarding business.
“Our business has not doubled, so
JUST DOWN THE ROAD
how do people expect us to pay double in
rent?” she said. “I don’t get that.”
“We were just sitting ducks,” she add-
ed. “I didn’t want to be in that position.”
Once the decision was made to leave,
Takemoto began informing her clientele
and urged them to keep their antennae
up to the new address once a location was
She started sending out the alert
about two months before she ended up
relocating to a newly redone strip mall
about five minutes down the road from
her old location.
Takemoto got the word out about the
pending move through a newsletter that
is sent out to customers every two weeks,
monthly advertising that goes to 15,000
homes in a radius around her store, word-of-mouth, and posts on Facebook and her
“They expected it,” Takemoto said
POWER OF NEGOTIATION
about the forewarning her regulars got
about the move. “We did everything
we could to let them know, and I don’t
think we lost anybody; we gained new
Takemoto said she had a week to shut
down to move and set up at the new lo-
cation, where she has been since June of
While Takemoto may stand out for the
smart decisions she made to avert a crisis for her business, she is not the only
retailer to have faced rising rents and
the hardships those costs cause for businesses. According Dennis Wright, western regional specialist for SCORE—a
nonprofit that provides free small-busi-nesses counseling from thousands of
rents naturally increase by two percent a
year to keep pace with inflation, meaning it’s a continually rising cost for store-owners. Still, Wright asserts, retailers are
“Every small business has one thing to
negotiate with—and only one thing,” said
Wright, who previously handled com-
mercial leasing for about 15 years. “The
one thing they have to negotiate with is
the possibility that they’ll leave.”
In his eight years as an advisor
for SCORE, Wright, who has advised
hundreds of small businesspeople,
admits that landlords often have tenants
over a barrel because they tip their hand.
However, typically, landlords would
rather keep a tenant than incur costs
associated with a vacancy, including
paying a broker to find a new tenant, loss
of rent if the space remains vacant, remov-
ing improvements made by the previous
tenant, new tenant concessions such as
reduced rent to move in, re-carpeting,
repainting, and so on.
“If you leave, the landlord is go-
Rising rents are a challenge for independents, but small
pet stores have leverage they might not even realize and
can enter lease negotiations from a position of strength.
Tomi Takemoto, owner, with
Agustin Ibarra, store manager,
and a couple of Takemoto’s
“kids” at the new location of
Animal Lovers Pet Shop, after
rent increases forced her to
relocate last year