LOMITA — On the front counter of the Honey Bucket antique store on Pacific Coast Highway, a sign says, "We welcome layaways."
But the layaway will have to be short-term: The Honey Bucket and three other antique stores on the same block will close forever at the end of January.
The closure signals the decline of Lomita's Antique Row--once a six-block strip of stores that was a mecca for antique buffs. Owners say it is the victim of economics and geography.
The shops began sprouting along the highway after World War II, and as many as 30 competed on the strip as recently as 1979, shop owners said. But one by one they have disappeared in the past five years as land beside the highway was bought and developed as motels, shopping centers and other more intensive commercial ventures.
'Another Spot on Road'
Shop owners say the demise of Antique Row will deprive this small city of 20,000 of a certain rustic distinction from its larger neighbors--Torrance and the Harbor City area of Los Angeles.
"Lomita's just going to be another spot on the road," said Barbara Butterfield, owner of Butterfield's Country Cottage, one of the shops going out of business. "No one's going to know where it begins or where it ends."
City officials say they're sorry to lose the antique shops, but they welcome increased tax revenues from the new commercial properties that replace them.
"It's sad to see them go," Mayor Charles Belba said. "It's the passing of a piece of history of the city."
"The City Council and Chamber of Commerce have always been concerned" about the steady loss of antique stores, Councilman Robert Hargrave said. "These businesses have given some identity to the city, but we always hoped to grow and expand. They do only marginal business."
Magnets for Each Other
Shops on Antique Row were magnets for each other, shop owners agreed. Joanne Adler, owner of the Past and Present store, said it was customary for shoppers to spend a whole day or afternoon going up and down the strip, visiting store after store.
"To me, it is one of the few businesses where competition is good for business," she said.
Four of the remaining half-dozen shops stand in the 1900 block of the highway, on land that the Wei-Chuan Construction Co. of Monterey Park bought in August. The company first gave the merchants until Nov. 1 to move out, but last week they got an extension until Jan. 31 so they could take advantage of the Christmas shopping season. In exchange, they agreed to pay twice their normal rent.
Although merchants were glad to get the extension, they are wary about where they relocate.
"Eventually we'll set up shop, but I don't ever want to rent again," Adler said.
Adler said she has lowered prices in an effort to clear out her store by the end of January. "Have you done your Christmas shopping yet?" she asked a visitor.