At the end of August, BBCM, a brunch restaurant at USC Village, shut its doors. This closure came after a lawsuit filed by BBCM and Rance’s Chicago Pizza alleged that the University misled them about rent pricing and the use of dining dollars at USC Village. Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, USC Village has a newly vacant spot and needs another business to occupy the space.
To fill the vacancy, the University should reach out to local businesses instead of chain restaurants to encourage more community involvement at USC. An integral part of this process will be lowering rent costs, at least initially, for these business owners and encouraging start-up proposals from the surrounding community as well as continuing to expand the University’s promise to train small businesses in the community.
Until 2017, the former University Village occupied the lot north of campus. The former Village contained sandwich shops, a movie theater and a grocery store. Rachel Will, a former USC student, wrote in L.A. Taco that it “was one of the few places around campus that also served the larger neighborhood, which shared it with sheltered USC students.” However, the new, higher-end chain businesses in USC Village have pushed out the mom-and-pop shops that once occupied the space with only one holdover from the past iteration: The Village Cobbler, a shoe repair store.
Instead of accommodating students and community members equally, the focus has switched solely to students. These high-end shops and restaurants are dominated by student housing, strikingly different from the strip mall that used to occupy this space. When walking through USC Village, one sees more students walking to and from class than families stopping by for a meal out.
USC worked to combat cries of gentrification from the get-go by pledging more than $40 million in support of the community. An Annenberg Media special report from Feb. 22 of last year noted that, while the University exceeded its local hiring goals for construction, especially when building the firehouse just across the street from USC Village, it fell sorely behind on its promise to small businesses. The University agreed to provide development training for 40 small businesses, but in actuality, the program worked only with 14, and only one of them was considered local by the University’s own standards. Additionally, much of this money traveled far away from the community, reaching as far as Mesa, Ariz. If the University wants to hold true to its word, it should reinvest this money in the community.
USC did attempt to help vendors relocate following the demolishment and reconstruction of USC Village, but it was not enough for most of the vendors to stay. The same Annenberg Media article found that USC paid a total of $342,000 in relocation assistance to 21 businesses.
With even Rance’s Chicago Pizza, a Southern California chain, unable to turn a profit or make rent, it is easy to see that it would be difficult for a local business to afford rent at USC Village. To encourage these businesses to return or new businesses to relocate, the University must subsidize the rent for new businesses. The University is falling behind on many of its goals in regards to giving back to the community, so it should have no trouble picking up the slack.
In addition to helping out financially, the University should train new business owners from the community and provide them a space to set up shop. Along with giving back to the community, this would encourage more local residents to visit USC Village, making the space feel more open and accepting to them. Providing more affordable options through local businesses could also make USC Village seem less elitist and more accessible to all students and local residents.