Diesel and Howdy’s Closing Country Mart Locations

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Diesel opened a Malibu location in 2004. Co-owner John Evans is pictured above at an author event last month.

Patrons of the Civic Center shopping area are in for a shake-up, as owners of Diesel, A Bookstore and Howdy’s Taqueria confirmed this week their businesses are closing up shop at the Malibu Country Mart in the fall. 

Diesel owners have no plans for a new Malibu location, but Howdy’s owner Howdy Kabrins said he hopes to open a new cantina-style restaurant in the old Granita space sometime next year.

The Malibu Art Barn at the Malibu Lumber Yard is also closing up, and the MLY Gallery closed in June. 

 Bookstore owner cites slow foot traffic, steep rent

Unable to keep up with rent prices, Diesel owner John Evans said he and partner Alison Reid plan to close sometime in the fall, depending on summer business. 

“The store will close and it won’t be open in the fall. Whether it’ll be closed three weeks, six weeks or nine weeks from now, we don’t know,” Evans said. The store has marked down its inventory and the latest Evans believes they’ll be open is September 21. 

Their lease runs through January 2015 but Evans said part of the reason they’re closing early is because they won’t be able to afford six more months of payments. 

Evans also faulted Diesel’s location in the Country Mart for the store’s impending closure. Housed in a first-floor space near a courtyard and fountain on the northern side of the center, Evans said it was often hard to draw in foot traffic. 

“We’ve talked with them about reducing rent, about moving, about doing events, and we can talk to them again, but at the end of the day, you’re tied into the lease you’re tied into,” Evans said.

Country Mart owner Michael Koss said he was disappointed in Diesel having to close but that he’d given Evans and Reid a fair lease.

“His rent is so phenomenal,” Koss said. “His rent on a square-foot basis is less than half of what the average is in the rest of the shopping center.”

Diesel began exhibiting signs of struggle last year when Evans and Reid put the store up for sale, hoping to attract a local interested buyer. No serious offers came in, according to Evans.

As for why Diesel may have taken a hit in recent years, Koss blamed consumers’ dependency on Amazon.

“Bookstores are really not a very viable retail business any longer. People go in there and they look at the book and they go and buy it on Amazon, where they can get it 40 percent less,” Koss said. “[Evans will] tell you that, and that’s what the book industry will tell you.”

But Evans disagreed.

“Fortunately, people are starting to realize what Amazon is like, that it’s not good,” Evans said. “But in a small community [Amazon] probably has a greater effect [on local bookstores].”

Diesel opened its Malibu location 10 years ago in the Malibu Village before moving to the Country Mart in 2011. Evans and Reid run three other Diesel stores, the closest being in Brentwood. Two others are located in Northern California.

Howdy’s relocating to old Granita’s space

Longtime local business owner Howdy Kabrins confirmed rumors of his restaurant’s closure as well, saying he and Koss “came to an agreement” for Kabrins to leave the Cross Creek center. Kabrins expects to vacate the Country Mart by the beginning of November. 

But it’s not “goodbye” for Kabrins, who has run Howdy’s at the Country Mart for nearly 20 years. He said that next year he plans to open a full-service restaurant offering his “Fresh-Mex” style food at Howdy’s Malibu Cantina in the long-vacated Granita’s Restaurant space at the Malibu Colony Plaza Shopping Center. With this new venture, Kabrins hopes to offer beer and wine sales, along with indoor dining. 

“I have no indoor dining [at the current location], it was always cold in the patio, and I could not serve beer and wine,” Kabrins said Tuesday. “I couldn’t even get a beer and wine license.” 

He said business at Howdy’s took a hit when Chipotle Restaurant opened at the Malibu Village in fall 2012, but rebounded about six months later.

Kabrins first made his debut in Malibu by opening La Salsa restaurant in 1987 on Pacific Coast Highway, south of the Malibu Pier. He eventually sold off the operation and debuted back in Malibu in 1995, this time with Howdy’s Taqueria.

Located in a centrally visible space along Cross Creek Road, Howdy’s became a draw for lunchtime crowds.

Koss told The Malibu Times that SunLife Organics will open its second Malibu location in the space left by Howdy’s.

Art Barn, MLY Gallery out at Lumber Yard 

Owners of the Malibu Art Barn and MLY Gallery also spoke out this week about their closures.

Malibu Art Barn Director Peter Tulaney said leasing agents for Glimcher Realty Trust, which owns the center, decided not to renew the Art Barn’s lease. The nonprofit Art Barn has been on a  “conditional lease” since opening at the Lumber Yard four years ago. Before that, it operated out of a private property in Serra Retreat.

Tulaney said he understood why the lease wasn’t renewed.

“It came down to them finding a tenant who wants a permanent lease,” Tulaney said.

The Art Barn will permanently close by July 24, and Tulaney has had to cancel the second half of summer camps he planned to offer. He’s also planning a “Barn Yard Sale” on July 18.

Seda Baghdasarian, who owned MLY Gallery, said her gallery closed in early June because she could no longer afford the rent and wanted to focus more on her personal art endeavors. 

“With the cost of typical retail rent…comparable to Champs-Élysées in Paris, I think I’d rather be in Champs-Élysées,” she said.

She’s interested in opening another gallery elsewhere, but is unsure. 

Calls to Ohio-based Glimcher Realty Trust were not returned.