Here’s some good news on this Small Business Saturday, 2021 is shaping up to be a good year. And, even better, the Larchmont businesses we checked in with this past week expressed cautious optimism about their business in the coming year, buoyed in large part by the support of the residents in the neighborhood surrounding Larchmont.
A few months ago, Larchmont Blv.d celebrated its 100th anniversary as a neighborhood-serving retail street. In this slow, crawling, somewhat-easing pandemic period, it’s worth noting that Larchmont was founded shortly after the last pandemic in 1918, part of an explosive real estate boom in the City of Los Angeles. This summer, there was talk of another period like the roaring 1920s, but lately, vaccine hesitancy, supply chain woes, staff shortages and inflation have tempered those once-optimistic forecasts. Even today, as we finalize this story, news of another Coronavirus variant is threatening the robust recovery.
Still, national retail forecasts expect this to be a banner year for retailers as more Americans decide to shop in person. And many of those shoppers are making a point to support their local small businesses.
Flicka and Village Heights
Kristin Sato, owner of Flicka children’s clothing shop, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary on Larchmont this summer, told us she’s really feeling the local support. She described one customer who was very purposefully shopping with a spreadsheet, listing every family member and the Larchmont store where she was getting their gifts. Sato said Larchmont shops appreciate the business and feel that people are making a concerted effort to shop locally and eat at small independent restaurants.
“This past year has been amazing on so many levels,” Sato told us. “There’s a really re-invigorated desire to look and feel what you are buying, to have a moment with the sales person or their child shopping. Everything feels more experience-based. There’s also deeper gratitude to be able to go outside, to go shopping and support the shops that are still here. We are so grateful that we were able to stick it [the pandemic] out.”
Louis Eafala, owner of Village Heights, told us he is enjoying a very busy fall, and so far the holiday shopping season is holding steady. “Fingers crossed, we are very hopeful that we are going have a great season, which is surprising after last year! We are fully stocked with lots of new lines Hanukkah and Christmas,” Eafala said.
“From my perspective this has been a banner year and ONLY because our sensational community has come out in droves to help us succeed in our new location,” said Bert H. Deixler, co-owner of Chevalier’s Books. “And that show of support has registered with authors and publishers who are now eager to do signings and other good deeds for the store. We could not be happier to be the oldest independent bookstore in Los Angeles with our community supporting us. And our challenge for next year is continuing to earn the loyalty of all of those who have allowed us to make it through this year in a new place with new rent and overhead, and our wonderful new manager.
“We’ve had an excellent year, and it’s definitely due to the Larchmont community,” Katie Orphan, that wonderful new manager, told the Buzz. “So many folks have really made an effort to shop locally and support us all year long. The location change has been beneficial too – there has been unanimous consensus from the folks who stop by about how much they like the new space. We’re glad to still be on the same block, and to continue to be part of such a great neighborhood.”
“Our challenges come from a lot of the issues that everyone in retail has been facing with the supply chain,” said Orphan. “It’s hard not knowing when things will arrive or what has been backordered. Again, the loyal customers have been quite gracious when we let them know about bumps in the book world infrastructure, so we hope that continues and we’re able to continue to grow over the next year.”
Landis Gifts & Stationery
Flicka’s Sato grew up on Larchmont and has fond memories of shopping on the street. Even though there have been lots of change lately, she said she’s optimistic and excited to have new stores come in when Larchmont Mercantile, the former Lipson Building now under renovation, eventually opens. This time last year, Christina Development, the owners of Larchmont Mercantile, forced all the existing tenants out of the building. While it worked out for Chevalier’s Books, it’s been more challenging for Edie Frère, the owner of Landis Gifts and Stationery.
Frère told us her biggest challenge this year has been letting people know she’s still on Larchmont, just north of Beverly. Frustrated that Christina Development wouldn’t allow her to put out a “we’ve moved” sign, Frère said it has taken months for her to get the word out. So Frère’s shop has morphed into more of a design studio operation, often meeting customers by appointment.
“But we still have most of what we had before, just in different quantities and not as spread out,” Frère told the Buzz. “We knew we would have less foot traffic where we are, but we love it and we don’t plan to move back to our old location.”
Frère said she’s focusing on building up her wedding invitation business again, another casualty of COVID that caused people to postpone or cancel celebrations.
“I find people are just now beginning to think about weddings and parties again,” said Frère. “We are lucky to have such a broad choice of invitations, and to have such a terrific graphic designer on staff. Plus, we have been doing invitations for 30 years and experience does count. And we love what we do!”
Floret Floral Design
North Larchmont has always had substantially less foot traffic than the Village, as Floret floral shop owner Lynn Hall knows. She opened her shop in Larchmont Village in 1997, then moved to her current location on North Larchmont after her rent increased substantially when Albert Mizrahi purchased her building in 2008. But people still find her and come in because they want to, and that’s a testament to Hall’s creativity. The pandemic forced her get even more creative, however. She told the Buzz that she has updated her website and learned to sell on Instagram. And it was also nice in a strange way, she said, because she got a break from regular work hours. At the beginning of the pandemic she was making deliveries or only allowing customers to pick up at the front door. But now, slowly but surely, things have started opening up. She’s still working shorter hours – 11:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. – but she’s cautiously optimistic.
“I have been comfortably busy,” Hall told the Buzz. Since before COVID, Hall has been sharing her space with other designers offering home goods, as well as Hall’s plants and florals. And just before the pandemic, she decided to curate the whole shop.
“Things were humming along, then it all stopped with COVID,” said Hall. “But it does feel like it’s coming back. People are shopping in the store and they are buying. The business is coming back and I am slowly building up inventory.”
It’s never been easy being in retail, explained Hall. “You have to reinvent yourself to stay on top of current trends. You can’t carry the same brands as always have, you have to keep up and cater to younger taste and most recently costs are much higher,” said Hall.
We heard that sentiment from others too. The challenge is keeping people coming in to shop. Everyone says they want the charming locally owned store but they don’t always shop there.
“If we want Larchmont to keep its charm, we need to support these businesses,” said Hall, who remains optimistic. She loves her space, her work is very creative and stimulating, and she was comfortably busy making arrangements for Thanksgiving.
For newcomers like Todd Warner, owner of Tailwaggers pet store, which opened during the pandemic, the Larchmont community has made his investment worthwhile.
“Business is going great compared to last year,” Warner told the Buzz. “People love getting out and are feeling much safer this year. We are always trying to make shopping an enjoyable experience.”
There’s always a treat for your pet and a place to sit. And next weekend Warner has planned a fun holiday photo opportunity with Santa Paws and Mrs. Claws, and a snow machine capable of making ten tons of snow!
“We are trying to get back the customers we lost to online sales due to COVID by providing an experience for you and your furry companion that no online store can,” said Warner. “We are very mindful of everyone’s budget and offer price matching on almost anything in our store. We want the community to come back to shopping locally and have fun. I’m optimistic for the coming year, too. I think most people have missed the interaction of real people and having a great customer experience.”
Warner said he would also love to see Larchmont stay lively past 6 pm. He’d love to see people get together with family and friends for a wonderful dinner and doing a little shopping as well. Warner said he tries to offer the same convenience of online shopping, with free same-day delivery and late hours (the store is open until 9 pm on every evening except Sunday, when it’s open until 8 pm.).
“Larchmont Village is such a special neighborhood, but it does need everyone’s support if we want to keep it special,” said Warner. “We are all so fortunate to have this special village in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world, and I want the Larchmont community to know that I’m here to help and support you all.”
Alexander Daas Eyewear & Opticians
For veteran store owner and second generation optician Alex Feldman, founder and CEO of Alexander Daas, business is going well. He told the Buzz he’s opening a third location in the San Diego area. Like other shops, Feldman has added new brands – such as Blake Kuwahara – to our Larchmont Village store’s curation of eyewear, and just released 15 new styles in 3-5 colors each of the ALEXANDER DAAS collection last month, which has been very well received.
“As the pandemic was starting,” said Feldman, “we brought in an Independent optometrist on-site, making it incredibly convenient for our clients to get eye exams and world class eyewear in one stop.”
“I’m optimistic that next year is going to be fantastic,” he added. “The experience that we provide is something that puts a smile on peoples’ faces because we make our clients feel and look great through our styling approach. Locals want this interaction, and as we adjust to this new way of living, more and more people are eager to get out and live life and enjoy the world again.”
Feldman said the COVID protocols do make serving costumers during COVID more challenging.
“While the Larchmont Community has been incredibly supportive, there are the occasional interactions where customers give our team a hard time about face masks or when people come in with zero intent on getting eyewear but try on dozens of frames, which we have to clean and sanitize afterwards. These experiences can be draining on our team,” said Feldman. But he also said he’s thankful for the support of the community and invites locals to “continue to help our businesses by bringing in their family and friends from other neighborhoods to experience our quaint neighborhood and the styling experience we’ve worked hard to perfect over the last four decades.”
Jose Grau, area manager for LA-based Buck Mason, told us that business has been incredibly good and consistent.
“The Larchmont community continues to be so supportive of our business,” said Grau. Buck Mason is also innovating its product line, with the launch of a women’s collection and the expansion of its men’s collection.
Buck Mason might not fit the Larchmont definition of a small business, since it does have other locations, but technically any business with less than 500 employees – which includes 99.7% of all U.S. employers – is considered a small business. Supporting local businesses whether they are very small, like many on Larchmont, or a bit larger, like Buck Mason, is like an investment in your neighborhood. Small businesses generate $68 of local economic return for every $100 spent with them. Which is another reason why a healthy Larchmont business community is good for everyone and, similarly, a struggling one isn’t good for anyone.
“It has been unfortunate to see many stores closed down here in Larchmont during the last 12-18 months,” Grau told the Buzz. “We hope we get to see new small businesses open in the new year as we want to continue to be part of the community and help it grow. We would love to see more community activities in the new year and we want to be part of them in any way we could.”
Rhodes School of Music
On the service side, David Rhodes, owner of Rhodes School of Music, located above the Burger Lounge, told the Buzz his school is nearing its pre-COVID student enrollment, and said it feels great to witness the mutual loyalty between the school and the community again.
“I am so glad and relieved to witness the value that we, as a community, all place on personal connections, and in-person lessons,” said Rhodes. “The connections that exist between the students, their parents, the front desk, the teachers, and the school as a whole is strong!”
For Rhodes, “our biggest challenge is continuing our upward motion. Things are different and there is more uncertainty in the air and about the future. We have to maintain and exhibit a level of care, concern, and clarity to ensure all our young (and until recently, unvaccinated) music makers feel safe, welcome, and happy while attending lessons.”
And he, too, said he deeply appreciates the community support.
“We get so many new students from existing student referrals,” said Rhodes. “Talking about our school is how we are able to stay on Larchmont Blvd., and it is the reason we are STILL on Larchmont Blvd. after a sometimes terrifying and tumultuous 2020. Thank you for keeping us here.”
Center for Yoga
Diana Buckhantz, one of the small group of neighbors who re-opened the Center for Yoga on Larchmont this summer, is hoping community support will continue to build. Right now, the studio is seeing more new memberships every week.
“We are excited about the enthusiasm in the community for the reopening of this beloved space,” said Buckhantz. “Of course, when we started this endeavor, the Delta variant was not in the picture. Concern about the virus has certainly slowed our numbers a bit but more and more of the old students are finding their way back to us – especially once they learn that many of their favorite teachers are back and that we have implemented stringent COVID safety protocols.”
The news of a new variant could further complicate things, but Buckhantz said she and her partners feel confidant that as more people receive their boosters and the infection numbers continue to decline and the studio will thrive.
“Even people who are not quite ready to come back have told us that they will be back soon,” said Buckhantz. She and her partners want people know they have put in a state-of-the-art air filtration system and they are limiting the number of students in a class.
“Of course, everyone must be vaccinated and masked,” said Buckhantz. “While no one prefers to practice in a mask, it is really not bad. There are many masks that are comfortable and breathable. People should come try out our offer of $30 for a week of unlimited classes. I guarantee once they are back, they will feel safe, comfortable and thrilled to be back in that beautiful space.”
Align Physical Therapy
Larchmont’s other health and wellness professionals are fairing well too. Amanda Star, the relatively new owner of Align Physical Therapy, told the Buzz her business is going so well she has been able to expand her offerings and hours.
“We now have four therapists (three physical therapists and one chiropractor), two instructors (rehab Pilates and Gyrotonics) and a massage therapist,” said Star. “All of us have a range of specialties, which enables us to work with a broad population of patients ranging from new moms to athletes, to weekend warriors and desk jockeys.”
“Our biggest challenge is that many people think that they only should come to see us if they are injured or if there’s something wrong,” said Star. “In fact, most of our patients are wellness-based, meaning they generally feel pretty good, but know that they could feel better. Proactive medicine and preventative health is the best choice for a healthy and pain-free life, and we see this again and again,” she said.
Like everyone else, Star said the Larchmont community has already been very supportive and she is very grateful for her clients and their referrals. And, similarly, Star told us she we would “love to get more involved in the community and offer complimentary workshops, yoga classes and education sessions given the space and opportunity!”
Whether you love it or hate it, Larchmont is all about food. As we learned in our Larchmont 2021 conversations, food is the future of most retail shopping streets and Larchmont is certainly moving in that direction with nearly 30 options for food in the one block stretch of the Village. And, there are two more (Holey Grail Donuts and Bacio di Latte Gelato) coming next year!
Will all these new eateries ‘cannibalize’ the business of the existing ones? It doesn’t seem to.
“2021 has been our best year by far,” Steve Vernetti owner and chef at the eponymous Vernetti Restaurant, told the Buzz. “It’s ironic and still hard to believe, but we really turned a corner this year. We are optimistic that this will be our new norm.”
It’s not all smooth sailing with staffing challenges and rising food costs, Vernetti said, but he is very hopeful.
“The support from our community has been nothing short of miraculous,” said Vernetti. “We will do our part to provide the same amazing experience they have enjoyed over the last 6 years.”
Another Larchmont Steve is Village Pizzeria’s Steve Cohen, who’s been making pizza on Larchmont for nearly 25 years. And Cohen said the last two years have been especially challenging for his family owned and operated shop.
Cohen said he is trying to stay positive, but also pacing himself because he’s still worried. He said he’d love to see more people returning to the restaurant so he can justify opening for lunch every day. For now, Village Pizzeria is just serving dinner, but he opens at 3:30 p.m., so that’s either a really late lunch or an early dinner for some!
But he, too, said the support of the community has kept him going and it still does.
“I’ve been doing this for 23 and a half years,” said Cohen. “We have a good product. We just have to find a formula that works with the changing costs and staffing challenges. I appreciate it when customers understand what we are dealing with, and the logistics dance that we have to do.”
When we spoke last week, Cohen said he just got his first catering call, to deliver to a local film set, which was an encouraging sign.
“We are still here!” said Cohen.
Le Petit Greek
Cohen’s nNearly next door neighbor, Nora Houndalas, owner of Le Petit Greek, can relate. She told us that business has been stable, but unfortunately, it’s been down by a large margin. Long a lunchtime staple on Larchmont, Le Petit Greek is now open only for dinner, except on Sundays.
“We definitely believe it will build, but it will be slow and it will take 2-5 years and perhaps not to pre-pandemic levels,” said Houndalas, noting that her biggest challenging is finding staff.
“We are fortunate with generous and loyal clientele who visit us not only for the food and service, but for the community and relationships we have built over the past 33 years,” said Houndalas.
Increasing rents and higher food costs do chip away at profit margins, and combined with changing trends in the restaurant business, put pressure on restauranteurs to be constantly innovating, which is exactly what Houndalas is proposing. She said she thinks Larchmont is the perfect place to provide that kind of personalized experience.
“A great idea for those who love the community of Larchmont is to create gift baskets or boxes featuring items from different Larchmont shops, restaurants & services. Pick things to do on Larchmont as the gift,” said Houndalas. “A restaurant gift card with a bottle of wine from the wine shop and some items from Larchmont beauty. Or make a gift of a “Larchmont Experience.”
She riffs on, “Shoes with a mani-pedi on Larchmont. Massage from one of the spas with a juice or smoothie. Kids clothes and ice-cream. Cosmetics and clothing, Coffee and books, flowers and fragrances, candles and perfumes. Bagels and coffee. A restaurant gift card with a book about that food’s history. So many mix-and-match possibilities.”
We get the idea. It’s clever and it could work. We loved her tagline too, “whether a gift box or gift experience you can say, ‘your gift comes exclusively from Larchmont Village supporting small businesses, community and kindness.'”
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