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Small-Town Atmosphere : Chatsworth Street: Shopkeepers welcome the news that big office buildings and mini-malls will be kept out of their area.

January 22, 1992|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Customers still have names in the small, 1950s-era shops along Chatsworth Street in Granada Hills.

Millicent Reed-Ford makes sure of that, hailing each one and asking about their families as they enter her Granada Hills Florist shop.

Pictures of their customers--and their children and grandchildren--hang prominently on a post near the cash register at Pat and Rae Sturgeon's Granada Hills Hardware Store.

"This place is still like the old street you'd find in Nebraska or Iowa or Kansas back in the old days," Reed-Ford said Tuesday of the 1 1/2-mile stretch of shops, most of which are owned by independent merchants.

To protect that small-town feeling from being swallowed up in urban sprawl, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved a plan that will keep big office buildings and mini-malls permanently off the strip.

It is welcome news to shopkeepers, who say they fear the day that their customers will refuse to walk the often-windy streets and are lured into shopping malls, where the small-town merchants are unwilling or unable to move because of the high cost of relocating.

"I would call this place pioneer country," said Reed-Ford, who opened her flower shop in 1954 when she was 23. To compete against the big malls, the Chatsworth Street merchants have to work harder.

"We have the work ethic," she said. "People on this street work long, hard hours." Hers is the oldest business along the boulevard under the same ownership.

The shops, many of them built in the 1950s, show their age. Yet the commercial strip between Lindley Avenue and Balboa Boulevard so far has not tarnished like Van Nuys Boulevard with its adult bookstores and pawnbrokers, or been reborn like Ventura Boulevard into a high-rent mecca of style.

Merchants wander in and out of each other's shops, sometimes to ask about business, which isn't what it used to be, or just to talk about the weather.

"There's a television show called 'Cheers,' " said Daniel Waggoner, who owns a photography studio. "Listen to the tune. You like to go somewhere where everybody knows your name."

And that's how it is along Chatsworth Street.

When Brian the United Parcel Service driver stopped in at Reed-Ford's shop to deliver packages, employees called out his name. He waved back.

Granada Hills Hardware has been there since 1947, a small shop stacked almost to the ceiling with do-it-yourself supplies. The Sturgeons bought the store 16 years ago when Pat retired from the Los Angeles Police Department. They are just the third owners.

"Quite a few people who come in here we know on a first-name basis," Rae Sturgeon said. "After 16 years, you should. We've seen their kids grow up and their kids grow up."

"I can go to Builder's Emporium, but I don't get treated like I do there," said Waggoner, who opened Danick Studio in 1959.

Down the street at Mugsy's, a friendly neighborhood bar that serves up "swell sandwiches" and "good brew," bartender Suzette Doherty has a theory.

"If you know people's names, you are less likely to get in a fight with them," she said. "This place is my proof."

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