Jay Luchs on Blue Bottle, DTLA Apple store rumors and celebrity retail

Jay Luchs of NGKF and the Louis Vuitton store on Rodeo Drive
Jay Luchs of NGKF and the Louis Vuitton store on Rodeo Drive

It’s nearly impossible to cruise the Westside’s high streets without seeing the name “Jay Luchs” in a retail window — though he’d like those banners to be quickly replaced by the signage of couture lines.

Luchs, a retail broker at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, has represented the likes of Celine, Louis Vuitton, Nike, Kitson, Soulcycle and the Kardashian’s fashion brand DASH. His main territory spans from the Beverly Hills triangle — specifically Rodeo Drive, Beverly Drive and the adjacent streets — to Venice Beach. He also has a growing presence outside of Los Angeles, including New York, where he was on the landlord side of the Gucci lease at Trump Tower.

We sat down with the broker to talk about the latest tenant he signed on Robertson, the role of celebrity in L.A. retail and whether that much-rumored Apple store is truly coming Downtown.

DOB: Jan 9, 1972

Hometown: Potomac, Maryland

Lives in: Los Angeles, up Doheny Drive, in the Hollywood Hills

Family: Single, no kids, “maturity level is about 28”

How did you get involved with real estate?

I grew up in a real estate family. The [family] business started in 1906, and in high school, my dad sold the company. I moved out here in 1995 after graduating from UVA. I spent five years in the entertainment business. I was on the TV side and wanted to be the head of a network, but I kept seeing the network heads leave because of ratings. I remember having a conversation with myself that I wanted to do something I could do my whole life, and I remember thinking, real estate is like wine.

Where did you get started?  

In 2001, I started working for Insignia, bought by CBRE two years later, in 2003. Then, I shifted from the investment sales world and jumped into repping landlords and tenants in the fashion world. I fell in love once I got a Brooks Brothers deal signed. That was the beginning.

What was it like to represent Trump in a lease — what were your interactions like?

I dealt with Ivanka and Eric Trump and they were great. Eric was about as normal of a guy as he could be, nice and easy to talk to. Ivanka was just real nice. We talked about tenants in the market. They were no different than other [landlords]. I didn’t interact with Donald.  

There have been unconfirmed rumors that an Apple store is coming to Downtown Los Angeles. What’s your take?

Apple may have looked in Downtown as they looked in Hollywood and other areas, but that doesn’t mean they are going there. I don’t think they are. I think they’ve looked and landlords have created more than what’s true because they want to build up an area and it could change the value of a property overnight. But until you hear Apple make an announcement, I would highly doubt Apple’s coming Downtown.

Bigger box retail is having trouble, how does this affect L.A.’s high streets?

The high streets in L.A. aren’t impacted. The spaces  are 3,000 square feet. Big box is a large box. Even if the world slightly falls apart — the internet is one reason why retail could be up in the air, and the election is another, so people are jittery — retail will be around. It has been around for hundreds of years. Many of the brands we see on the streets have been around for 50 to 75 years. Hermes and Chanel are always changing. Saint Laurent has changed designers and [the new designer, Anthony Vaccarello] is popular. These brands ride out times.

What about non-luxury brands?

Contemporary fashion brands have more at risk because certain consumers have to stretch up to wear those clothes.  

What is the biggest challenge L.A.’s high streets face?

It’s all about how you merchandise those popular streets, especially since they have different landlords, unlike a mall. That’s where brokers come in. If you sign the wrong tenant just for a buck, it won’t look good. It’s a harder job today because we are in an odd place in the world. There are deals being done, it’s not 2008, but tenants remember it well and some will stop doing deals for now.

How much has it slowed compared to last year?

Last year, it was multiple offers for the same space and now it’s going after tenants for space. I represent H&M and COS which are expanding, but there aren’t a lot of brands out there expanding in fashion.

What’s happening on Rodeo?

Luxury brands are still doing deals on Rodeo, but it’s also pretty full. On Abbot Kinney, we are signing hip tenants in [smaller spaces]. Beverly Drive for L.A. has become the Soho for brands. I think Melrose by Urth is probably one of the most interesting [shopping] blocks because it’s in the center of West Hollywood. You’ve got the celebrities, it’s spread out, it’s kind of choppy. Dean and Deluca is moving in, taking over the former Bodhi Tree Bookstore space.

What about North Robertson — we were seeing a lot of signs with your name on them for a while there…

Robertson got crushed from 2008 on but now we’re starting to do deals. Blue Bottle is in leases at Robinson Plaza. I think that will start to bring Robertson back. When you have a sought after hip tenant, once they open, retailers will want to attach themselves to it. In a year, you will have two new restaurants, a Blue Bottle and a gym, so that will get things started. The rents are low right now on Robertson, so it’s a catch 22 — do you wait until it happens?  

How low are rents?

It’s $8 to 10 [per square foot] per month, vs. $18 to 20 on Melrose. Beverly Drive is $15 to as high as $25. Rodeo is $65, $75.

Why was Robertson hurt worse than other streets in the downturn?

Robertson as we know it is hurting because it had a fast rise, and rents were hitting Rodeo Drive numbers. Then 2008 happened and it never recovered. I give it two years.

How do you feel about retail in Downtown L.A. — can we expect a Gucci store there anytime soon?

Development has catered to residential and food but it is not easy to sign a retail brand Downtown. I know because I have signed tenants in Malibu and West Hollywood that were intrigued by Downtown but at the end of the day, it wasn’t for them. Tenants aren’t going to make real money there for years. Acne Studios came. COS took the Olympic Theater space and I  represented them. If rents stay moderate, the fashion brands will eventually show up, but it won’t be overnight. COS will do well because there is more of their customer around — they [attract] the locals and the people going to design school. But the tourist customer might not be there yet, and other brands need that.

What’s your forecast for the retail space in the big mixed-use projects under construction?

With buildings like 801 Broadway [the Broadway Trade Center redevelopment],  where they have 200,000 square feet, I think it needs to be carefully curated but not overly curated because you can only do so much. The tenant is going to take a risk going Downtown.

What is unique about retail in Los Angeles?

L.A. has become important in the world of retail because it is where fashion meets entertainment. Celebrity is so important in this world, even if we might chuckle and laugh about it. What a celebrity wears goes a long way. That’s why top companies have celebrities wear brands. Because we [in L.A.] have access to celebrities and retailers can collaborate with them, it makes L.A. more important. There is a younger world that’s on Instagram and Snapchat [taking cues] from them.

What do you love about Los Angeles?

Everyone is friendly, and it’s not like that in every city. People used to say L.A. was fake, but that’s a misconception. The friendliness is genuine. People love it for the weather, but it’s a legit town. Sure, there are actors and writers everywhere, but some of them end up making it, and they are an important part of L.A. but they are not all of it. There is so much to it.