Nercy Manzoor, owner of Elysee Patisserie Boulangerie in Westwood Village, remembers how until about four years ago the crowds that gathered in his bakery after movies were, in his words, "a good type of people."
Many of his customers were professionals and well-behaved young adults. Elderly people out for a night on the town would occasionally stop in for a cup of coffee.
That was before rowdy teen-agers and gang members began to congregate in the village. Gradually, Manzoor said, the bakery's business declined 35% as the new element began to dominate the village late on Friday and Saturday nights, scaring away potential customers.
Last weekend's fatal shooting of a 27-year-old Long Beach woman by suspected gang members, in Manzoor's view, was a tragedy waiting to happen in an area that many already viewed as unsafe.
"This is the only place in L. A. that is alive," Manzoor said. "It was the attraction spot even for the foreigners. But right now, we are going down and down and down."
Karen Toshima, a graphic artist for a Studio City advertising agency, was fatally shot in the head on Saturday night while walking with a friend on Broxton Avenue near Weyburn Avenue. Police said they have many leads in the murder, but have not made any arrests.
Many village merchants agreed with Manzoor that the quality of the village has declined. Although welcoming a Police Department plan to increase patrols in weekend nights, they complained that trouble had loomed for several years, but had gone largely unheeded by police.
Capt. Maurice Moore of the department's West Los Angeles devision said Westwood has always been a safe place to visit and that the shooting was an isolated incident. They said gang violence can strike anybody, anywhere in Los Angeles, and that gangs have brought their problems not just to Westwood, but to the entire region.
That view was shared by City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky and by spokesmen for the Westwood Village Merchants Assn., who expressed concern that the negative publicity generated by the shooting will scare away visitors and shoppers.
"This area is very, very safe," Yaroslavsky said at a news conference Monday. "It is a place where people can feel comfortable."
The Los Angeles Police Department announced Monday that it would increase the number of officers assigned to Westwood on Friday and Saturday nights from six to 20 for an indefinite period.
Store owners and managers in the village said in interviews this week that they have complained for the last two years about an increasing gang problem in the area.
Although last Saturday's shooting was the first homicide in the village in 3 1/2 years, the sidewalks of Westwood have been the scene of frequent scuffles and verbal assaults between gang members, merchants said.
"Clearly, there is a gang presence in the village and on the Westside," said Steve Saltzman, chairman of the anti-crime task force of the Los Angeles West Chamber of Commerce.
Police Lt. Gabe Ornelas, commanding officer of the West Bureau Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums unit, confirmed that gangs have been coming regularly to the village over the last two years.
The gangs have intimidated many potential customers on weekend nights after about 10, when most movies let out, the merchants said.
"There've been several fights," said the manager of a Broxton Avenue store, who asked that his name not be used. "It's gotten continually worse. It's like a mob scene every weekend."
The manager said a young man who appeared to be a gang member recently barged into the store and threw a magazine rack at another man during a fight. The throng of loitering youths outside his store regularly cuts into his business by intimidating potential customers, he said.
Martin Hsieh, owner of Swensen's Ice Cream Factory on Broxton, said he has noticed more people who he thought were gang members standing outside his store in the last year.
"People considered Westwood one of the safest places," he said. "Now, it's no longer. We depend on the visitors. If the place is not safe, they will not come. I hope this will stop."
Like many Broxton Avenue merchants, Hsieh said that on weekend evenings, youths hang out near his store, blocking the entrance. It was only yards from his restaurant that the shooting occurred last Saturday. His was one of several businesses to which panicked bystanders fled when the shooting broke out about 10:45 p.m.
The owner of a restaurant on Gayley Avenue, who asked that his name not be used, said he has noticed a dramatic decline in the quality of the village in the 10 years he has been in business.
"We've had a lot of people complain that they don't want to come into Westwood after 10 p.m. because the crowd changes," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, Westwood is the only place of its kind in L. A., and if they don't start doing something about it, they're going to lose the atmosphere."