Out of style
A building’s sale jeopardizes the resurrection of Joe’s Style Shop
Just east of Old Sacramento, J Street is speckled with valuable, high-maintenance 19th-century buildings that have survived since the age of railroad magnates Leland Stanford and Edwin B. Crocker. One of them, a narrow, pink, three-story building at 920 J Street, still advertises the presence of Joe’s Style Shop, though the old clothier, Joe Faraci, is no more. The coalition that most recently used the retail space as a gallery and concert venue may fade permanently into history, also; the owner of 920 J Street, engineer Javed Siddiqui, is in the process of selling the building after struggling for a year to bring it up to code (see “Cops hop on hip,” SN&R News, January 23).
Siddiqui bought 920 J Street in 1989. He called it his “dream building” and planned to move his offices there eventually. But after Faraci’s death, Siddiqui rented Joe’s to a succession of musicians and artists who turned the first floor, which once had been everything from a hardware store to a confectionary, into a nonprofit gallery and event space. They kept the name Joe’s Style Shop and began drawing young, diverse audiences downtown for hip-hop shows, raising alarm among some of their neighbors.
“It’s more of an art form of hip-hop,” Joe’s manager Matt Rodriguez explained. “No drugs or dissing women.”
Almost a year ago, after a series of visits, the city closed Joe’s Style Shop because of health and safety violations, leaving Joe’s employees convinced that the city was just set against hip-hop shows in historic downtown.
Since losing his renters last January, and with construction permits expiring and fines adding up, Siddiqui finally ran out of time, money and determination.
“My problem was,” said Siddiqui, “I was just totally worn out. As much as I liked the people I worked with … sometimes you just can’t hold on to things.”
Siddiqui claims not to know the new owner’s plans for 920 J Street. Bound by a confidentiality agreement, he’ll only say that the new owner will rehabilitate the building to the city’s liking.
Carl Pinkston, co-founder of the Freedom Bound Center, a local organization that supports cross-cultural youth programs including Joe’s Style Shop, was at the venue last January for a hip-hop show when the city shut the place down for the first time.
“I got there around 10,” said Pinkston, who was scheduled to speak, “and the cops were there.” Pinkston explained to police and fire personnel that no alcohol was being sold and that security guards were checking IDs, but a fire official found inadequate fire exits and exposed wiring and determined the place was a fire hazard. “They asked that it be shut down now,” said Pinkston.
Pinkston estimated that, after organizers canceled the concert and negotiated with law enforcement, two weeks went by without incident.
“Next thing I know, I get this frantic call,” said Pinkston. “They’re boarding the place up.”
The artists downstairs and those renting studio space upstairs were given a short time to gather their belongings and vacate the building. That shutdown was the last big event at Joe’s Style Shop.
The narrow three-story building—praised in historical records for the flowered medallions decorating its facade and its bays of windows, basically unchanged since construction in 1871—is now boarded up at street level with sheets of plywood. From the inside, one sheet reads, “With no culture, no life.”
The empty bottom floor is still decorated with big swatches of melon and green paint. Cracked glass in windows and doors is covered by old ads for guitar lessons and posters advertising past political events. In the body of the building, small, closet-sized rooms are covered from floor to ceiling in oatmeal-colored carpet, presumably for soundproofing.
Principal building inspector Josh Pino said that a year after closure, the back of the building is sagging, there are still electrical issues, the plumbing leaks, and some windows are broken or inoperable.
Because the building was added to Sacramento’s historic register in 1982, windows facing the street can only be replaced with authentic replicas, which is one of the expensive projects that finally wore Siddiqui down. Rodriguez sites this as evidence that the city’s policy unfairly drives up costs for the owner, making a quick renovation impossible.
“The owner should be able to decide how pretty to make the building,” said Rodriguez. “On the sly, they’re trying to implement gentrification.”
“I think the city will never publicly say they have problems with hip-hop,” said Pinkston, who admitted that Joe’s Style Shop did have legitimate health and safety issues. “But they do have a problem with it. They associate it with some kind of street gang.”
According to Siddiqui, the city never claimed to have issues with hip-hop, but an extensive renovation clearly would drive up rents, likely pricing out artists and musicians. The city provides matching funds for the rehabilitation of historic structures but will invest only in certain projects. Even if Siddiqui had accepted up to $75,000 in matching funds, he would have had to raise $75,000 of his own. And those funds might not have been enough. Pino estimated that full renovation could cost as much as $180,000.
“None of it’s inexpensive,” said Wendy Saunders, manager of the city’s downtown-development division. “That’s why you see so many of the historic buildings downtown without innovative uses. … It’s really difficult to pay for the property and then bring someone in to do an expensive renovation.”
In spite of the challenges, said Saunders, most of Sacramento’s older buildings will find new users eventually. A recent example, she said, is the old Daugherty building at the corner of 16th and J streets. What was once an auto dealership now houses lofts and two restaurants, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and Mikuni.
Since the closure of Joe’s Style Shop, the young artists who thought they’d finally found a home have been hopping from venue to venue. Mike Rodriguez, another Joe’s Style Shop organizer, said that he and his friends are “getting more guerrilla” about their work.
“The city hasn’t come to grips with the need for venues for diverse youth,” said Pinkston, who claimed that Joe’s Style Shop had been the only space downtown for “politically conscious youth” who don’t use drugs or alcohol.
“Alcohol comes first wherever hip-hop is played," said Rodriguez, who’s mourning the dissolution of Joe’s Style Shop a year later. "For us, culture came first."