Hand Sanitizer, Free Masks And LAPD: How Businesses On Venice's Lincoln Blvd Are Weathering The Pandemic
The first time I went to talk to small business owners along Lincoln Boulevard in Venice, it was March 16, the day after L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti closed down bars, gyms, movie theaters and restaurant dining rooms. The restrictions were changing daily, and no one knew quite what to expect.
Seven weeks later, some businesses are closed, others are barely scraping by, and some have more or less successfully made the jump to coronavirus-related commerce, at least for now.
ESSENTIAL OR 'LUXURY?'
I picked Lincoln Boulevard because it had a little bit of everything: a tobacco shop, a fabric store, an artisanal ice cream parlo, and a frame shop, where I met owner Sam Moaven.
Of all the business owners I met at the start of the shutdown, Moaven was especially prescient about the way aid to businesses would shake out.
"Like small business loans," he told me back in March. "Lots of us are not going to get approved. And we need the help right now, today."
It turned out he was right: The $349 billion federal Paycheck Protection Program ran out of money after just 13 days. And, as many journalists have reported (including us), banks fast-tracked bigger loans for bigger companies, leaving the little guys out.
When I visited Frame 2000 last week, the door was closed and a sign taped to the window read: "We're just cleaning, not going anywhere."
I called, and store manager Wil Hernandez answered. He said until recently, people could come pick up their framed pictures, but then police officers showed up at the door and started writing a ticket for violating the county's "safer at home" order.
"I cried so much, [the officer] ripped the paper and give me a warning," Hernandez said.
Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Josh Rubenstein was unable to confirm this, but said officers have made 1,675 visits to non-essential businesses that remained open as of April 30.
After that, Frame 2000 closed completely. Hernandez worries it might be for good.
DON'T MISS ANY L.A. CORONAVIRUS NEWS
Get our daily newsletters for the latest on COVID-19 and other top local headlines.
"The work we do here is definitely a luxury," he said. "I really don't think it's an essential. I mean, picture frames, you can wait a year, or years."
Frame 2000 isn't the only store on Lincoln that's been visited by police. Back in March, Lincoln Tobacco Shop employee Danny Borghesani told me: "If we're forced to shut down, then yeah, we're gonna shut down. But until, like, the government steps in, we'll probably still be open."
Tobacco shops were ordered to close just three days later.
But Lincoln Tobacco Shop defied those orders, according to L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer. Two weeks ago, Feuer announced he is filing criminal charges against the store.
MAKING IT WORK
Dry cleaners, though, are considered essential businesses.
Enrique Catalán owns Globe Cleaners, and in the past month, he's seen an uptick in his "fluff and fold" drop-off laundry service.
"Going to a laundromat can be kind of risky especially for a lot of the older population that's more at risk for COVID-19," he said.
Still, it's not enough to make up for the steep decline in dry cleaning. He says overall business is down 70% to 80%. He used to have five employees, but now works alone.
Down the street, Fabric Planet is also allowed to stay open under the county's health order because it sells supplies for masks.
And it was busy when I stopped by recently: masked employees stuffed packages full of cotton and quarter-inch elastic to ship around the country. Owner Jack Jacob Sapar rang up a woman with purple pigtails, who was using her unemployment benefits to buy fabric and scissors.
"There's tons of people coming in like her," he said. "Designers that I know, they're just making masks now. They're able to make an income.
In March, Sapar was worried he'd have to lay people off. Now, he has four sewers making masks full time. He sells the masks on a sliding scale, $0 to $11, whatever people can pay.
"This mask thing has been a blessing in disguise," he said. "Not just for us but for the entire industry, you're seeing a surge of manufacturing in L.A. again, which is exciting."
But the mask boom doesn't make up for the huge drop in higher-end, custom sewing work that Sapar used to get, like making patterns for designers. He could only pay half of his rent in April, and said he'll probably do the same in May.
Finally, I stopped by the 76 Gas Station, which looked deserted.
Back in March, owner Hadar Shimshi said gas sales were down, and hand sanitizer sales were up. Now, gas sales have fallen off a cliff. But Shimshi told me he is selling a lot more of something else: lottery scratch tickets.