Sandwiched between a closed theater and a shoe store on Hollywood Boulevard, Roma Fashion seems to have in place all the elements for good sales: prominently displayed, trendy dresses and helpful salespeople. But the owner of the women's fashion store is waiting patiently for the store's main ingredient for success: tourists.
"Every day business goes down. . . . I don't know what happened," Saimak Fark said recently while rearranging the dress displays in the small shop. He said daily dress sales used to average $1,000, but this summer he's bringing in about half that amount. To save money he's trimmed his sales staff by half--to two people.
"I expected a good summer because every summer I do well," he said.
Along the boulevard's Walk of Fame, other merchants echo Fark's expectation and subsequent disappointment. They say that what should be their most profitable sales period has so far been the most dismal summer in recent years.
Some of the boulevard's shopkeepers and restaurateurs cite the national recession, but many others acknowledge a challenge closer to home: the appearance of the street itself. A renovation movement is under way, but for now run-down facades, crime and homeless people on every block detract from business, merchants say.
Tourists are turned off by panhandlers' inopportune requests for spare change, many business owners complain. Indeed, the panhandlers interspersed along the boulevard are an ironic contrast with the glamorous images invoked by the Walk of Fame--hundreds of terrazzo-and-brass stars dedicated to some of Hollywood's richest and most famous performers.
Rayshele Teige, a clerk at Blaxx clothing store, said bluntly: "Business is terrible, and it's because of the bums."
"If there weren't so many homeless people on the boulevard . . . a lot more tourists would come down and we'd be better off," she said, surrounded by hundreds of leather outfits that the store sells to heavy metal aficionados.
One block away, at Starway Fashion, clerk Nicole Kim bemoaned the sad state of business. "The boulevard is losing fame," she contended. "The streets are dirty, and crazy people are begging around."
Local police and Pompea Smith, project director of the Hollywood Economic Revitalization Effort, said the short, parallel streets immediately north and south of the boulevard are centers for crime and prostitution--also a major worry for merchants. Smith's agency is coordinating Hollywood economic development efforts.
The problem hasn't escaped the attention of tourists. Dave Pierce of Phoenix, visiting the boulevard with his wife, said: "I was disappointed that (the stores) don't open till late and that they close early. I guess they need to close early with the crime and all."
A handful of police officers from the Hollywood station have been patrolling the area on bikes since September to offer protection to tourists and merchants.
"Tourists come looking for palm trees and movie stars and all they really have is this," said Officer Leo Ortega, sitting on his black Raleigh mountain bike near a swarm of tourists examining the handprints and footprints of stars in the atrium of Mann's Chinese Theater.
"Hollywood is like a magnet" for the homeless and drug addicts, said the officer who has patrolled the area for 13 years. Many runaway teen-agers sleep in the area in abandoned buildings, he added.
The irony, Ortega said, is that the homeless are attracted to the tourist haunts because the boulevard is also home to social service agencies such as the Teen Canteen, where social workers provide meals for homeless youth.
The boulevard still draws crowds of tourists who come to find the star of their favorite performers and are drawn into the street's motley collage of curio shops, tattoo parlors, trendy clothing stores, opulent movie houses and fast-food eateries.
The problem this summer, boulevard merchants say, is that there are fewer tourists and they are spending less money. "Between the facts of life today, the recession, people laid off . . . we are all hoping for better days," said restaurant owner Doreet Hakman from one of the many empty booths in the Snow White Cafe. The cafe once depended on business from residents of the neighborhood, but many have moved away and Hakman says she has changed her emphasis to attracting tourists. "Lately I've been relying more and more on tourists, which has been depressing," she said.
Rick Cetz, a newspaper and magazine vendor at the Hollywood and Vine intersection for six years, is worried about his lower sales. He said he makes about $100 per day now, less than half of what he used to earn on the well-known intersection. "I hope it's better later in the year," he said, leaning against his table-sized, collapsible stand.