Auf Wiedersehen, Alpine Village. Shop Owners Pack Up On Notice That Longtime German American Hub Is Closing
The beloved Alpine Village near Torrance is shutting down after 55 years of keeping the familiarities of the homeland nearby for the German American community.
News of the closure took shop owners by surprise earlier this week when owners tweeted that "Alpine Village has permanently closed."
The Alpine Market has closed permanently. Thank you for your patronage over the many years. pic.twitter.com/bn3ZNAuXBD— Alpine Village (@alpinevillageca) February 28, 2023
That wasn't quite right. Businesses were and are still operation — for now.
Following that tweet, store owners said they received a letter from management saying that Alpine Village had been sold. Then 30-day notices to vacate were posted on the front doors of their shops. (Although, we'll revisit that timeline in a minute.)
The Alpine Village Market, a swap meet held six days a week in the village's parking lot, was shut down permanently in February.
Alpine Village carried a little bit of everything, from stylish shoes, to collectible antiques and traditional attire, to the smell of freshly baked bread and sausages — all imported from Germany.
“This was a big gathering place for the German community, cause they came and got their grocery essentials and then could go and have a little lunch or, you know, have a beer and, and do a little shopping on this side,” said Elke Schulz, owner of Alpine Toys and Gifts.
Shock, heartbreak…and betrayal.
While the closure took the community by surprise, shop owners said there were rumors circulating about the fate of the village.
The rumors started in January when it was brought to the attention of the shop owners that the location was put up for sale. But many heard that things would be okay, that nothing would change and there was nothing to worry about, according to Ismael Diaz. He's operated an office space for DMV registration for the last 10 years in Alpine Village.
“They use words that I guess at the end have multiple meanings,” said Diaz.
I mean, it's just hard to believe that a place that's been there so long, all of a sudden just one day to the next, shuts down.
For Michael Mueller, owner of Salamander Shoes, the news came as a shock.
“I mean, my kids, they all grew up here. They remember it, you know, and it was, I mean, it's just hard to believe that a place that's been there so long, all of a sudden just one day to the next, shuts down,” said Mueller.
Salamander shoes has been opened since 1968, the year Alpine Village first opened, carrying shoes imported from Germany and other parts of Europe. Mueller’s parents ran the business until it was passed on to him after his father died.
Mueller says business was already looking a little bleak because of the pandemic.
But now with the sale of Alpine Village, the shop owners have until the end of March to finish selling on the property. He said he wish he knew of the sale earlier, that way he could have hosted a blow-out sale during the holidays. Finding a new venue to sell is not easy, and neither will packing up all of his inventory.
Although the notices shops received says they have 30 days to vacate the premises, the new management reached out to shop owners with an extra 30 days, "which was nice of them," said Mueller.
Elke Schulz and her mother Marlene run Alpine Toys and Gifts. The toy store, now more of a souvenir and gift shop, has been in the village since 1971. Her uncle was one of the original store owners who came together to form Alpine Village.
Schulz is worried about what to do with the rest of her store, like cabinets and other fixtures for example. If she were to open a new store someplace else, she wouldn’t want to start over and buy new furniture.
And then, there’s the delicate items like the German pyramids and other antiques that can’t be stored for too long because of the possibility they might get damaged.
Schulz was given an offer a few months back — right around the same time the rumors started about the property going up for sale — to rent a space in Old World Village in Huntington Beach, another hub for the German American community. But she waited to see what would become of the rumors, until it was too late. She checked this week to see if the Huntington Beach space was still available but it's been rented out.
For Schulz, the store has been there for her whole life. She said her mother has been non-stop packing.
“She's just gonna go and start plugging away. Keeps the anxiety a little at bay,” said Schulz.
She says they’re just taking one day at a time, but you can see the sorrow in her eyes when she talks about having to leave soon.
“It’ll be okay. It’s just sad,” said Schulz.
Auf Wiedersehen, or see you next time
In Alpine Village Cosmetics, long-time customer David Simpkins shopped around for German bath products which he says are really great quality and unique. He and his wife have been coming to the village for over 15 years, frequenting the bakery and cosmetic store.
Simpkins also keeps coming back because of shopkeeper Eleonore Kish’s attentive personality. She asks about his kids and vice versa and knows exactly what Simpkins is looking for once he steps inside.
When Kish got word of the closure, she said it felt like “somebody kicked the children out of the house, you know, that's how it feels.”
Kish stumbled upon the village shortly after she and her husband Bruce Kish arrived in Southern California in 1988 from Germany. Kish said she missed her staple groceries when someone tipped her about Alpine Village.
“I was so surprised," she said, of her first time going. "Did my shopping, everything. And we had our bratwurst and my magazines and everything. So I felt really good."
Soon after, she began working at the store and then eventually took over for the owner, noting that they still sell 4711 cologne, a brand that President John F. Kennedy favored.
Another of Kish's customers, Sylvia Moore, said that on some days, the store would turn into something different, where people could exchange recipes and how they used certain products.
“It was a little bit more than shopping. It was kind of old timey," Moore said. "You came here and chatted with others."
Moore is also from Germany. When she heard the news of the closure, she called Kish and asked if they were still open, and immediately rushed over to pick up some of her favorite products.
What happens next
Alpine Village was designated a historical landmark in 2020 or its role in preserving German culture after the Los Angeles Conservancy learned of a threat to demolish the area back in 2019. It was not immediately clear what the new owners plan to do at the location.
As the days go on, the shop owners get more calls from loyal clientele asking if they’re still open, for how long, and how are they doing.
“I'm a big believer in opportunities. Opportunities do come, you know, you just can't be closed off to 'em,” said Schulz.
For now, all they are focused on is packing boxes and waiting for customers to help take some of their merchandise off their hands. Even if Alpine Village is in its last days, the memories created will last a lifetime, if not forever.
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