Comparing it to life in communist Vietnam before she escaped more than 30 years ago, one local business owner believes that being forced to move the location of her hair salon is a reversal of the American freedoms she became a citizen to obtain.
“I have a shop beginning in 1986,” said Kim, owner of Hair Wave on the 18300 block of Sierra Highway. “I work two jobs to build (my) business. (Now) they drive me out.”
Kim and other tenants in the building received notices in the spring ordering them to move out of the building by the end of the year. At least two buildings are being purchased and razed by the City of Santa Clarita to build the proposed Canyon Country Community Center.
Negotiations are taking place between the city and attorneys for the Caruso family, owners of the building since the 1950s. They also own two restaurants — Osteria Caruso in the same building as Hair Wave and Piccola Trattoria around the corner. But the Carusos’ tenants argue that after decades building their businesses at the site, there are both emotional and financial costs which are being minimized by the parties involved.
“I believe we deserve fair compensation for all the distress and for the future financial hardship that awaits us when we move,” said a written statement by Joe Chavez-Trejos of Joe’s Shoe Repair, next door to Hair Wave. “The City of Santa Clarita isn’t giving us a right to just compensation for the nearly 20 years that we’ve been in business. They should consider the fact that we are being torn from our established businesses for their interest and convenience. For that, all we ask is to leave our business in a fair manner, as it should be. We have to move and re-establish ourselves again and it will be difficult. What the city is offering is not fair enough at all.”
Two individuals from Creative Perspective Strategic Implementation, or CPSI, visited the business owners. They were hired to assist the tenants in finding new commercial locations and communicate offers by the city of financial support in the process. It just wasn’t enough, said Chavez-Trejos and Kim.
The prospective rental properties suggested by CPSI were either too expensive or too far away, Kim said. They showed her a space at 26836 Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus, for instance — 6 ½ miles from Hair Wave.
“I need my customers,” Kim explained. “The customers are like my friends. I don’t want to go far away.”
When it was suggested to Kim that she simply rent a station rather than open another salon of her own, she used a metaphor to communicate her rejection of the idea: “I have a car; they give me a bicycle.”
Currently, Kim pays $850 per month for rent, while the Bouquet Canyon space is $2,557 per month, she said. The CPSI consultants told her she would receive the difference in rent of $1,707 for 24 months. The problem, she said, is that she needs $20,000 a year of income, and she would be starting from scratch building a client base.
“I support my family,” she said, which includes two sisters, as well as financial help she gives nieces and nephews for their education.
She also said she spent $45,000 on such upgrades as electricity, water and lighting, which she can’t get back with the current offer. By Kim’s calculations, she could afford to relocate and open a new salon if the city paid her $125,968. That’s $40,968 for two years of the difference in rent, plus $40,000 for two years of income she said she needs, plus $45,000 for the money she spent on upgrades.
“I need to speak out so people know how I feel. Sometimes I wake at midnight with nightmare that I lost my business,” she said. “The communists took everything (from) my father and mother. I escaped by boat in 1980. We lost everything. Now they take everything here.”
Kim pointed to a flag that sits atop the desk at the entrance, a backdrop for her thoughts.
“I’m so happy in USA,” she said. “I love this country so much.”
Joe Chavez-Trejos wants fair compensation as well, enough to cover the bump in rent plus the loss of income.
“I believe we have rights,” he said. “They claim that we have no rights and that the time and many, many years we’ve invested in our small businesses don’t matter, as long as they can get us out of here. They aren’t being just or comprehensive at all, in any way.”