Over the past 30 years, "mom and pop" merchants in the Montrose Shopping Park have developed a special identity.
"Montrose is Mayberry. Good ol' Mayberry," said shopkeeper Susan Paynter, likening the shopping strip to the fictional, folksy North Carolina town depicted in the popular Andy Griffith television series of the 1960s.
The atmosphere in the three-block drive-through mall along Honolulu Avenue west of Verdugo Road resembles a small rural town where merchants, shoppers and even the foot patrolman call one another by first name. It sponsors street festivals and is proud that there is almost no crime.
Although the City of Glendale annexed the area in 1954, residents and merchants refer to the Montrose shopping strip as "our town." It has a general store, a hardware store, movie theater, bowling alley, cafes and more than 130 other shops featuring arts, crafts, collectibles, gifts, jewelry and clothing.
The shopping district, which was developed in the 1920s, got a city-financed face-lift in 1967, when its plain business street was converted into a curving, tree-lined mall dotted with landscaped outdoor seating. Parking lots were added to the rear.
During the past three years, the city has spent more than $200,000 on improvements and landscaping.
But there are cracks in the image of Glendale's Mayberry. And last week merchants turned to the city for help.
Most worrisome, the village's economy has remained stagnant for three years. The volume of taxable sales has stayed at $15 million while sales at other Glendale retail centers soared, according to Brian Butler, city finance director.
A small J.C. Penney store, which was the major department store in Montrose for more than 40 years, was closed several years ago because it had fallen out of step with its parent chain's emphasis on large stores in suburban malls.
Several small businesses have gone bankrupt, leaving vacant storefronts on the mall.
Merchants and city officials attributed the problem in sales to the withdrawal of Penney's and other stores as well as increased competition since the opening of the second phase of the Glendale Galleria in 1983.
Offices Moving In
And there is a growing trend for banks, offices and high-technology businesses to move into the village, replacing retail shops.
Although financial and office development has revived other decaying downtowns, merchants in Montrose said they are killing the small-town image of the village. Many merchants and shoppers said they would prefer that the village become an arts colony.
In response to the merchants' request for aid, Glendale last week allocated $22,000 to study the plight of the shopping park and to develop long-term plans. It is the first study sought by Montrose, City Manager James Rez said.
"The Montrose business area has always been a very self-reliant area," Rez said. "I am sure it was not an easy decision on their part to ask for help."
The city returns about $16,000 a year, part of sales-tax revenues generated by the shopping park, to the merchants' association, which uses the money for promotion and growth. That allocation is not sufficient for merchants to fund their own study, according to the association.
'Steady Decline in Sales'
Rez said the city has "noticed a rather steady decline in sales in the Montrose Shopping Park when the sales figures are converted to actual dollars after inflation."
He recommended that the City Council finance the study so that merchants "can make the necessary plans for a comprehensive, long-range program toward becoming a more successful retail center."
He said, "The city's investment will be returned through increased sales and activities."
Rez told the council that the city financing will have a beneficial psychological effect because many residents of the Montrose-La Crescenta area "perceive that all of the city's efforts and assistance are taking place in the center city."
In asking for help, merchants reopened discussion of a topic that once drew cringes--redevelopment.
"We have laid off the idea of redevelopment in the past," said Frank Roberts, president of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn. "But, if we do have to go that way, maybe later on it would be nice to get the town all shaped up and looking good."
Character of Village
Roberts and other community leaders said they hope that the study, expected to be completed in the fall, will propose a way to enhance the special character of the village.
John Kumjian, a Montrose jeweler for more than 25 years and a member of the Montrose Parking Board, said: "This is a unique town. There are not too many towns left like this anymore. But it needs to develop a sense of uniformity."
Roberts suggested that an architectural theme be developed, perhaps by installing boardwalks and hitching posts to resemble an Old West town. He pointed to the success of the quaint Danish architectural theme in Solvang as an example of how a theme shopping area can lure customers and tourists.