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Finding Their Niche : Operators of Tiny Businesses Along Popular Ventura Boulevard Contend Bigger Is Not Better

November 30, 1987|BOB POOL | Times Staff Writer

Brett Doherty has learned that the best way to close a deal at his Woodland Hills auto sales and leasing office is to make his co-workers stand outdoors.

"It makes the customer more comfortable if we clear out when contracts are being signed," Doherty said.

The technique is of little comfort on rainy days to the three other employees of the Ventura Boulevard car agency. It's a necessity, though.

Their company headquarters is only 12-feet wide and 15-feet deep.

The tiny California Cars Co. is one of dozens of businesses along the San Fernando Valley's 15-mile-long main street that is bucking the trend toward expensive facades and expansive floor space.

Operators of the small stores say they are convinced that bigger is not better. These days, some Los Angeles city planners are saying the same thing.

The Planning Department is at the midway point in a Ventura Boulevard transportation study that could result in special assessments being slapped on large commercial businesses between Studio City and Woodland Hills.

Millions of dollars raised by the assessments would pay for such things as new automated traffic signals and pavement sensors that the planners hope would keep cars moving on the boulevard.

Tiny stores, which officials feel cater mostly to neighborhood shoppers, would be excluded from having to pay the fees, under the city's present thinking.

That's good news to the small-timers, who say their businesses are homey, if humble.

"I'm happy with my shop," said Hooshang Bral, owner of the 200-square-foot Tavoos flower shop in Encino. "People think the shop is cute. It's a good location. The small size doesn't bother me."

About half of Bral's store is taken up by his walk-in flower-storage cooler. He said much of his business is also the walk-in type--shoppers at the Plaza del Oro shopping center and strollers headed for trendy restaurants nearby.

Abraham Victory sometimes stores merchandise in his parked car in front of his 15-foot-wide shop, Ventura Toys, in Sherman Oaks. Inside, about 5,000 toys are stacked on shelves along the sides and down the center of the store.

"I'm the owner, manager, stock boy, everything, for nine years here," Victory said. "I think the size I have is almost enough. But it does take an expert to put things so customers can find them."

At Jan Conroy's 12-foot-wide fan shop in Woodland Hills, merchandise lines both the walls and the ceiling.

"People are always surprised by the amount of merchandise we have," said Conroy, manager of the Olde Tyme Ceiling Fan Co. "I tell them we have it in stock, and they say, 'Where?'

"But it's nice when you're not overwhelmed, like you can be in a large store. Customers are more comfortable. I enjoy it because it's a manageable space."

Tolerable is the way Darnella Wallick describes her family's Sherman Oaks eatery. It's 5-feet wide.

"You don't turn around in here, you spin," said Wallick, who works 12 hours a day at Future Dogs. "It's cozy, but it's hot in here. And when it rains, I have to go home to get duct tape to patch things."

Before becoming a hot-dog stand, the oddly shaped, 20-year-old pink and purple building was a sheepskin seat-cover store, Wallick said. Before that, it was a record store--specializing, presumably, in compact discs.

Marlene Birdsall's shop in Woodland Hills is also an eye-catcher. The 7-foot-wide, wood-shingled building has a tiny white picket fence in front. It looks more like a doll house than headquarters for a busy landscape company.

"Everybody who comes in comments on how cozy and cute it looks," said Birdsall, the general manager of Stony Brook Landscape Maintenance.

"But there's no heating or air-conditioning. I open the windows and the French doors in the summer and bundle up in the winter."

Company co-owner Yuille Menzie says the building once housed a realty office and a nursery. Before that, it was a house. Old-timers in Woodland Hills remember the place as having about 50 square feet in the 1940s, when a woman and her son lived in it, he said.

Some newly built boulevard shops are also small.

In Tarzana, David's Cleaners occupies a 9-foot-wide space in a shopping center that is only a few years old.

"The good thing is you can reach everything," said manager Sarkis Gezalian. "We can store clothing up in the air because the ceiling is about 20 feet high. This place is higher than it is wide."

The Woodlake Plaza shopping center in Woodland Hills is 18 months old. One of its stores is 10-feet wide.

The 150-square-foot cubicle stands at the edge of the shopping center's parking lot, in an otherwise unusable corner space between two parking stalls. Realtor Tim Meade, a commercial leasing specialist who handles the center, is looking for a tenant for the miniature storefront.

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