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ECHO PARK : Finer's Prepares for a Final Sale

March 14, 1993|IRIS YOKOI

Amid the usual smiles and hugs offered freely at Finer's clothing store, there are a lot of tears flowing these days.

After 70 years in Echo Park, the store at 1618 Sunset Blvd. will close its doors for good at the end of the month. Customers have been coming in daily to bid farewell to the Finer family and their longtime employees, buy the remaining men's and women's clothing at greatly reduced prices and lament the loss of a store known for its warm, personal service.

"I'm already missing you," customer Myra Junyszek told Dorothy Wish, a Finer's saleswoman for 39 years, and store owner Jackie Finer Reed.

Junyszek said she has shopped at Finer's since she came to Echo Park from Poland 32 years ago "because they are so nice and they have good quality clothes."

"And who's going to fight for this neighborhood now?" Junyszek asked.

In fact, it is the sense of fighting a futile battle that prompted Reed to close up shop.

The recession hurt business somewhat, but Reed said the primary reason for her decision was that the once-booming Sunset Boulevard business district has become blight- and crime-ridden. Frequent car burglaries and loitering drug dealers and addicts have scared customers away, she said. So when lease renewal came up this year, Reed decided it was not worth continuing the business.

It was a tough call. After all, when her father, Jack, considered closing the store just five years ago, Reed vehemently objected and took over ownership.

"We're one of the few mom-and-pop stores left in the area," Reed said.

The store began as a haberdashery run by Reed's grandfather, Morris Finer, a tailor and designer who had his children do everything from sell clothes to sweep the street.

"I still do that--I just swept the gutter this morning," said Jack Finer, 87, who took over his father's store.

Even though Reed runs the place, Finer has been a constant presence at the store--cleaning, helping customers, making lettered price signs with his flawless penmanship and telling many stories. Like the one about meeting his wife, Veta, when she became a Finer's employee in 1933. And how her beginning salary was $20 a month.

Veta Finer, who married Jack in 1934, and Reed chime in with other memories: how the Sunset area was once an Italian neighborhood; the problems they faced with the shortage of goods, especially nylon stockings, during World War II; how streetcars used to pass by on Sunset.

Reed, her brother and her sister all worked in the store. "When our heads were high enough to reach this counter, we were old enough to sell," Reed recalled.

The store also has several loyal employees who are like family: Wish; Betty Arellano, a 22-year employee, and window display designer Robert Vera, a 20-year employee. Saleswoman Beatriz Pina was hired five years ago, after 20 years as a customer. Saleswoman Elizabeth Cole, 19, became the newest and youngest employee six months ago.

But it was Reed who was destined to take over the store. She majored in merchandising at UCLA and "never did anything else" career-wise. "I got up in the morning and couldn't wait to get to work," she said.

Now, Reed plans to devote herself to volunteer and community work after the store closes March 31. She said she has no desire to run or work in another store. And simply moving Finer's to another location didn't seem appropriate, she said.

"We feel comfortable here," she said.

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