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Sowing Seeds of Discontent : City Wants to Transplant Popular PlowBoys Market

June 24, 1993|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HAWAIIAN GARDENS — For 35 years, PlowBoys grocery has attracted shoppers from across Southern California and even occasional busloads of foreign grocers.

Customers say they are drawn by the family-owned market's old-fashioned charm that includes sawdust-covered floors, an open-air entrance and a reputation for having the freshest fruits and vegetables for miles around. "You feel like you're getting something picked right off the tree," said former City Councilman Richard Vineyard.

Now, the store's owner and neighboring business people are distressed over a city plan to clear the land for a proposed retail center. Although the city promises to relocate PlowBoys and 11 other small stores that lease space on the property, the merchants say a move could put them out of business.

City Council members say that PlowBoys could move to a choice location. A city-owned lot at Belshire Avenue and Carson Street has been mentioned as a potential site.

Some critics are concerned, however, that PlowBoys would be forced to move to a strip mall and be deprived of its down-home atmosphere. They argue that the city should protect one of its original, most successful businesses.

More than 9,000 customers have signed a petition at the store asking the city to scrap its plans. They listed addresses in Anaheim, Buena Park, Torrance and Huntington Beach, among other places.

"This is just like a family," said PlowBoys owner George Ogawa, who runs the market with his son and daughter. "I want to stay. All the people who come in the store say, 'Please George, fight it."

Ogawa opened PlowBoys in 1958, six years before the city's incorporation, at a time when the area was mostly dairy farms. Over the years, the store has become known for its produce, which Ogawa's staff buys daily from area farmers and a produce mart in downtown Los Angeles. Customers say the market's goods are often fresher than those at larger chain markets because the store is able to buy smaller, select quantities. City Council members say they appreciate the market's historic value but can't pass up a proposed development that would generate an estimated 250 jobs and $250,000 a year in sales tax revenues.

PlowBoys and the neighboring businesses--including a thrift store, two bars, a barber shop and beauty salon--generated just $38,000 in sales taxes during the first 11 months of this fiscal year, said Maria Lloyd, assistant to the city administrator. The market is the largest of the businesses and employs about 50 people.

A retail development also would yield up to $75,000 a year in property taxes, compared to about $10,000 now, according to the developer.

The city last week sent offers to the two property owners to purchase the six-acre site along Carson Street between Arline and Seine avenues. City Administrator Nelson Oliva said in the offers that the city plans to develop the land because it is "blighted and in need of redevelopment" and does not produce adequate tax revenues.

Steve Veady, whose family owns the PlowBoys land, declined to comment on a possible sale. Charles Downen, who owns a quarter-acre parcel just west of the market, said he does not want to sell because he relies on rental income from a motorcycle shop and lawn mower store there. City Council members, who also serve as directors of the city redevelopment agency, say they will consider a proposal to condemn the land at a July 8 hearing if the owners refuse to sell. The city has drawn up a tentative agreement to sell the land to the Long Beach-based Cerritos Gardens General Hospital Company, which is planning an 80,000-square-foot commercial center.

Company officials are negotiating with Utah-based Smith's Food & Drug Centers Inc. to open a store at the site, said Beryl Weiner, a spokesman for the developer. The developer plans to build a second retail center of about equal size at the site, although no tenant has been selected.

The company is owned by Dr. Irving I. Moskowitz, a Florida resident who has built several medical centers in the Southeast area. A nonprofit organization controlled by Moskowitz also operates a bingo parlor near the PlowBoys market.

Councilwoman Kathleen M. Navejas said officials "would be doing the city a disservice by turning away a project that can bring in services to the community and tax dollars. We all love PlowBoys, but we have to generate income and jobs."

Although city officials argue that a Smith's food center would help attract other large retailers to the square-mile city, some critics question whether the store can be successful. They note that a Smith's opened earlier this year in neighboring Lakewood and another is expected to open in Cerritos in February.

In addition, Costco Wholesale Corp. is negotiating with Long Beach officials to open a retail warehouse store on part of the grounds of the U.S. Naval Hospital on Carson Street just west of the Hawaiian Gardens border after the hospital closes.

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