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Barrio Logan art gallery La Bodega to close its doors after rent increase

La Bodega Gallery in Barrio Logan closes its doors
After six years in their current space, Soni-Lopez Chavez and Chris Zertuche are being priced out of their “La Bodega Gallery” in Barrio Logan after they were informed of a rent increase that they cannot afford, making them another casualty to the gentrification of Barrio Logan and Logan Avenue. They were photographed on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019.
(John Gibbins / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

After six years in the community, gallery owners say they have been ‘gentrified out’

Regarded as one of the pioneering galleries behind Barrio Logan’s vibrant arts district, La Bodega Gallery will close its doors at the end of the month.

Gallery owners say the decision came after they were unable to negotiate a lease agreement with the property owner because of an increase in rent they said they “can’t afford.”

“I’m just really sad to have to close this home for all of those artists we worked with throughout the years,” said Soni López-Chávez, who runs the gallery with her husband, Chris Zertuche.

The 6-year-old gallery is located in the heart of the predominantly Latino community south of downtown San Diego. Its monthly art shows draw hundreds of people to the neighborhood and some, such as its annual Frida Kahlo Art Show, see an attendance of more than 5,000 people.

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Local artists and community members say La Bodega Gallery was a space that brought business, community and value to the neighborhood, which is dealing with gentrification.

The gallery was mostly empty Monday morning with a few art pieces from last month’s art show on the floor. La Bodega hosted nearly 380 shows since it opened.

López-Chávez, who is not on the lease and did not participate in the negotiation, said they were paying more than $4,000 a month for the space. She and Zertuche agreed that if the rent was doubled what they pay, they could no longer afford to lease the space.

“I knew something was wrong when he came back because I could see it in his face,” López-Chávez said, her voice breaking. “He just looked like all of his motivation and inspiration was completely drained and he said to me, ‘we can’t stay, we have to go.’”

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The building, which houses the gallery and the popular taco restaurant Salud, is owned by former National City Mayor Nick Inzunza.

La Bodega Gallery closing
Soni-Lopez Chavez and Chris Zertuche are being priced out of their “La Bodega Gallery” in Barrio Logan.
(John Gibbins / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Inzunza wrote in an email that he was not at liberty to discuss Zertuche’s tenancy because of a confidentiality agreement.

“I can say that his success on Logan Avenue has been amazing; bringing art studios thru out (sic) the street has been great,” Inzunza wrote Monday night. “The unfortunate circumstances that are out of my control is the improvements that must be made on my building because of the change of use. The city has been very patient and understanding but we have simply run out of time...and the improvements must be made.”

The building has 10 work studios that are sub-leased by Zertuche to artists and writers. Inzunza said “art studios that are there now can stay...no increase in rent.”

Two years ago, the gallery owners were notified by the city and fire marshal that the space needed upgrades to meet city fire-safety standards. Repairs included ceiling restoration, adding smoke detectors, installing a sprinkler system, restroom renovation and more.

The crackdown came after the Ghost Ship fire in 2016 at a warehouse in Oakland that had been turned into a gallery and artist living space. The fire claimed the lives of 36 individuals.

López-Chávez and Zertuche spent $6,000 fixing the ceiling, but decided to wait on the other renovations until they secured a lease. They estimated that bringing the building up to code would cost nearly $70,000. López-Chávez said Inzunza never offered to invest in fixing the building.

Inzunza wrote Monday night that he is going to make “all improvements at my cost and will begin work immediately.”

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La Bodega Gallery opened in 2013, when residents say Logan Avenue was littered with mostly vacant or failing businesses. Today, it is a vibrant corridor with restaurants and small businesses.

Barrio Logan resident Brent Beltran said López-Chávez and Zertuche created a space for artists, activists and others.

“They have made a tremendous impact and it is heartbreaking to see all that they have done negated,” Beltran said.

Beltran said the gallery closing is going to be a tipping point for the community. Earlier this year, another gallery on Logan Avenue closed because the rent was more than doubled. Chicano Art Gallery opened around the same time as La Bodega and also provided a space for local young artists to showcase their work.

Following the closure of Chicano Art Gallery, members of the community organized an open discussion on ways to mitigate the impact of gentrification on the neighborhood.

“These are community people that have lost space within their own community and that’s heartbreaking,” Beltran said. “It really pisses me off. They created so much value and they get pushed aside.”

López-Chávez shared the news Tuesday morning on social media and received hundreds of comments from both people inside and outside the community who were saddened by the news.

“It already happened to Chicano Art Gallery, it happened to us and (will) continue to happen,” López-Chávez said. “Gentrification is a real thing.”

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La Bodega will host a Star Wars group art show, coincidentally titled, “The Last Saga” on Dec. 14.

Updates:
1:55 PM, Dec. 03, 2019: The story includes information about the work studios inside the building and a quote from Nick Inzunza.

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