Bob Landis started working for his father at the Landis Department Store when it opened in 1933. Now 73, he is about to close down the eclectic emporium to make way for a bank, a change that has residents and merchants alike concerned about the future of Larchmont Boulevard.
Once a sleepy street of shopkeepers catering to the old-money neighborhoods of Hancock Park and Windsor Square, Larchmont is staying up late now that a half-dozen new restaurants are bringing in the dinner crowd.
Real estate offices and banks have also moved onto the quaint boulevard, taking the place of smaller shops that were forced out by higher rents.
But the demise of Landis' old-fashioned general store, which sells everything from Mexican-made Imperial washboards to Rezutuf men's vinyl rubbers, appears to have marked a turning point for the tree-shaded enclave.
"It'll be a big loss--we've said it for years, knowing it would happen," said Bill Bartel, owner of the Chapter IV children's clothing store next door to Landis. "A lot of people complained when Safeway left (five years ago). I never thought that was such a great loss. I always said, 'Wait till Landis leaves.' Landis brought a tremendous number of people to the street."
Located just south of Hollywood's barrios and west of the crowded apartments of Koreatown, Larchmont Boulevard's small shops and wide sidewalks--especially in the block between Beverly Boulevard and 1st Street--look like the image of what used to be thought of as Main Street America.
"This is a neighborhood shopping street. When you go into the stores, when you walk down the sidewalk, you know everybody," said Tina Peterson, a 25-year resident.
Bob and Betty Landis fit right in that picture, according to Dr. Timothy Gogan, president of the Larchmont Boulevard Assn., who said that their Christmas open house at the store could have been taken from a Frank Capra movie, complete with sherbet punch and butter cookies.
"Over the years people have said, 'If you can't find it anywhere else, you could probably find it at Landis,' " said the owner, whose father, Arthur, opened the store at the height of the Great Depression.
"We've just tried to offer conveniences, service and the personality of the store to our customers," he said. The store's contract post office has also been a mainstay of the neighborhood since 1940.
A UCLA graduate who grew up nearby and worked for a few large companies before souring on corporate life, Landis rejoined his father in 1948 and devoted the rest of his life to the store, where he is on a first-name basis with many customers.
"Many of them, as they come in, have said, 'Bob, I could just cry,' " he said in an interview.
Landis, too, admits to mixed emotions about his decision to go out of business, especially since the frenzy of his current 25%-off sale has made it hard to keep the place neat.
But having sold the land four years ago, and with his wife lobbying to spend more time at their second home on Newport Beach's Balboa Island, he expects to close his glass doors for the last time in mid-October.
Christine Wolfus and Edith Frere, two neighborhood women who have been running a gift catalogue from their homes for the last five years, hope to keep the name going, however.
With Landis' help, they plan to open a smaller version of the old store in a shop now being remodeled across the street.
Once it is ready, it will look even more like an old-fashioned general store, complete with log walls and peach baskets, said Wolfus.
Despite the high cost of real estate in Hancock Park and other areas in the Larchmont area, "If you offer interesting, unique items that are difficult for people to find at reasonable prices, there would always be a need for that," she said.
"This isn't Beverly Hills," Wolfus added. "This is a real family-oriented neighborhood, and the people here tend not to be flamboyant."
Her husband, Dan, is president and chairman of the board of Hancock Savings Bank, which bought the old Landis property and will be moving its main branch there sometime next year, but she said there was no connection.
Although Hancock Savings' existing branch down the street is jammed into 3,000 square feet and drastically in need of expansion, Dan Wolfus said that he gave Landis as much time as he wanted to keep running the store after the bank bought the property in 1986.
"It provides a lot of services to that community," Wolfus said. "People went to Landis, No. 1 for the post office, because it was very handy, and No. 2, because anytime you needed something, Bob seemed to have it in his store."
He said that he would keep the post office branch once the bank moves in. Meanwhile, he is looking for a strong retail tenant to take over the bank's old location.
"The neighbors would always like to see retailers move in," Wolfus said, explaining that banks and real estate offices irritate the locals because they already have bank accounts and houses and would rather have more places to shop.