Column: Pandemic closures threaten the L.A. we love



Bruce Abraham, 67, can recall his first journeys to Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.

He was 5 on the time.

“It could be heartbreaking to see this place fall,” stated Abraham, a retired paralegal who lives in Sunland and visits the shop “a number of occasions every week” for periodicals, books and shopping.

Upstairs, within the youngsters’s e book part, Alicia Procello and her son Martise informed me they’re longtime prospects, too. I requested Martise, now 12, how outdated he was when he first got here in.

“Two,” he stated.

“You’ll be able to’t reinvent this place,” stated his mom.

And let’s hope no person has to. However Vroman’s has put out a plea for help to prospects, saying the coronavirus might do them in. So has Chevalier’s Books in Larchmont Village, one other beloved native establishment.

They’ve joined a rising listing of native mom-and-pop shops and impartial eating places which might be in hassle or have already shut the door for good. On condition that we don’t know how lengthy it is going to take for commerce to return to regular, I’m starting to fret about what the Better Los Angeles panorama goes to seem like after the pandemic.

The Pacific Eating Automobile close to downtown Los Angeles, with its late-night breakfast and tuxedoed workers, is probably not taking up any extra passengers, having offered off its fixtures and gone to promoting steaks on-line. Stan’s Donuts in Westwood is completed after 55 years, and Chinatown’s Plum Tree Inn has checked out after greater than 40 years.

I used to be speaking to L.A. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who informed me a variety of the companies in his district are struggling, after which he talked about that Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood was struggling as a result of it wasn’t arrange for outside eating or takeout service.

My coronary heart flipped. L.A. with out Musso & Frank — which simply turned 100 — isn’t L.A. They’d most likely put an Outback Steakhouse there and I’d have to maneuver to San Francisco or someplace.

However to not fear.

“We’re undoubtedly going to open once more,” stated owner-operator Mark Echeverria. He informed me the restaurant owned the constructing, so there’s no lease cost stacking up. The truth is, he stated, the restaurant remains to be overlaying healthcare premiums for its furloughed workers. However he, too, worries about Los Angeles post-virus.

“I’m afraid L.A. goes to lose a few of its historic id,” Echeverria stated. “I feel as a metropolis we have to rally round our historical past and help it as a lot as we will.”

OK, positive, change generally is a good factor, and we dwell in an ever-evolving metropolis. However can’t we preserve among the outdated, together with the brand new?

“Pals, the previous few months have been essentially the most troublesome in our firm’s 126-year historical past and Vroman’s wants your assist to remain open,” the Pasadena bookstore’s house owners wrote in a tweet to 21,000 followers.

I’m going to confess to 2 issues:

One, a choice for native mom-and-pops over company companies. They’re, in spite of everything, a giant a part of the enchantment and the spirit of Los Angeles, the land of one million scrappy, impartial forays.

And two, a tender spot for Vroman’s.

With all of the books, playing cards, magazines, stationery, housewares and novelties, it’s like a small division retailer, however you’ll be able to at all times discover a quiet, carpeted nook, plop down with a e book and really feel as for those who’re in your personal front room.

It’s the place we took my now-17-year-old daughter when she was studying to learn and liked shopping the shop’s large second-floor youngsters’s part, which was higher than going to Disneyland. And lengthy earlier than that, my spouse and I’d meet at Vroman’s after which go to a film subsequent door on the Laemmle, which, by the best way, is an area treasure that was struggling to outlive even earlier than the pandemic.

Truly, I’ve to confess to a 3rd factor, although it’s unflattering.

Final week, I needed to purchase a e book for a pal, and with out a second thought, I went into my Amazon account to purchase it. Simply after that I received an electronic mail from Vroman’s proprietor, asking if I needed to drop by and discuss his battle to outlive.

What a idiot and a hypocrite I’d been. With a number of months of restricted journey and brick-and-mortar procuring excursions throughout the pandemic, I’d change into much more hooked on the comfort of e-commerce. After I realized I might have ordered the identical e book from Vroman’s, or picked it up in particular person, I attempted to cancel my Amazon order, however it was too late.

Joel Sheldon, the bulk proprietor, didn’t kick me out of his retailer as penance for my sin. And I attempted to redeem myself by shopping for the identical e book for an additional pal. However he stated that for a retailer that had survived wars, recessions, the arrival of big-box chain bookstores, e-books and even Amazon — the final two years had been its most worthwhile ever — Vroman’s was reeling.

“Typically you get caught up in what I name sweeps of historical past, and it doesn’t make any distinction how sensible you’re or how robust or well-financed,” Sheldon stated. “You will be swept away by a tidal wave. We’re in a pandemic and it’s a tsunami.”

There’s a merciless irony in what’s occurring to impartial bookstores, Sheldon stated. With extra downtime, persons are doing a variety of studying, however they’re not as inclined to depart the home, so that they’re procuring on Amazon although Vroman’s is an efficient native choice for getting books on-line.

It’s a case of the wealthy getting richer, whereas neighborhood anchors — the sorts of locations which might be invested of their communities, and provides them a way of historical past, place and id in a land of homogenous behemoths — slip additional into peril.

UCLA professor Paul Ong informed me he’s nonetheless analyzing analysis on the impression of the coronavirus on independently owned companies in a number of Los Angeles neighborhoods, however some preliminary traits are already clear.

“On common, companies in ethnic neighborhoods … usually are not faring as effectively,” stated Ong. “We suspect that a lot of these have gone beneath, and we’re speaking to some group people near the bottom who’re saying that many of those companies is not going to be again.”

Ong stated Sherman Oaks, Larchmont Village and Venice have held on, however Chinatown has been onerous hit, partly due to the xenophobia round whether or not the virus originated in China. In some ethnic neighborhoods, Ong stated, retailers didn’t seem to have entry to monetary sources, or language limitations stored them from making full use of presidency help.

One other issue needs to be that service business jobs have been decimated, and residents of low-income ethnic neighborhoods have been devastated by each COVID-19 and misplaced spending energy. However largely Latino Boyle Heights has fared fairly effectively, Ong stated, and one idea is that main hospitals within the neighborhood assist anchor the micro-economy.

The factor we will all do, if and when we’ve got cash to spend, is preserve it near dwelling, which is a manner of investing in all of the impartial retailer staff, in addition to our neighborhood treasures.

At Vroman’s, third-grade instructor Lisa Gee was in search of books by poets Carol Ann Duffy and Seamus Heaney.

“I’d somewhat choose up a bodily e book right here than look it up on-line, the place you’ll be able to’t browse,” stated Gee, who drops into Vroman’s a few occasions a month. “I like coming right here as a result of that is the sort of place you don’t see anymore.”

Mary Paster, a linguistics professor and resident of Upland, drove in to fill a basket with books as her manner of serving to Vroman’s survive.

“Bookstores are necessary and a dying breed, and Amazon is simply killing off all of the independents. I’d hate to lose this one, which has been right here 126 years.”

Folks have lengthy stated that with hundreds of books, pens and stationery, purses, greeting playing cards and knickknacks for each room of the home, you’ll be able to’t go into Vroman’s and never discover a reward.

“I like their stuff,” stated Paster, who displayed a number of objects in her basket. “I’m doing a little early Christmas procuring.”

steve.lopez@latimes.com