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SHOPPING SCENES: MONTROSE SHOPPING PARK : A Quiet Street That's Perfect for Browsing

December 10, 1993|WILLIAM KISSEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Every morning about 9, Rick Kalish stumbles into the City Hall Coffee Shop in the Montrose Shopping Park, grabs his personalized mug from its hook and heads for his back booth hide-out.

Right on schedule, Millie Alt, Dick Huntwork and Bob Wallis, all City Hall regulars, wander in and reach for their cups. About 50 mugs--each with the name of a patron--hang on the back wall of this tiny, narrow cafe.

"I've been coming here every morning for about eight, maybe 10 years now," Kalish says. "We kid that you have to have a minimum of 50 visits before you get a cup on the wall," Alt adds.

It's easy to see why time seems to stand still on this three-block stretch of Honolulu Avenue between Verdugo Road and Las Palmas Avenue in the Glendale foothills.

White's Art Store, offering art supplies and picture frames, has been here since 1944; Landry's Sporting Goods arrived in 1952, and Kimmel-Meehan men's clothiers in '55. Uncle Tom's Toys has outgrown three sites since 1967, and the Candle Tree started selling pewter dinnerware and coffee beans in 1975.

Among the other things that you'd never find in a shopping mall is the Mont Bowl, a rare eight-lane bowling alley, says Ed Tellefsen, owner of the Readers Edge Bookshop, a gathering spot for local artists, writers and musicians who read or perform in front of SRO crowds.

"All the trees and winding streets give the neighborhood something of an old-fashioned character," says Wendy Howard of Country Classics, a 2,500-square-foot haven for one-of-a-kind rustic pine furnishings, household accessories and preserves. "The best part is, it's not a studied kind of charm," adds Jane Humphrey, owner of the 27-year-old Once Upon a Time children's bookstore.

Montrose attracts people who appreciate its small-town feel, explains Dick Banks, owner of Pam's, a women's clothing store here since 1972. Community spirit peaks during an arts and crafts festival in June, an Oktoberfest block party and the Montrose Christmas parade, which was Dec. 4.

"It's one of those Donna-Reed-is-alive-and-well kind of things," Tellefsen says.

A stroll down Honolulu Avenue on a Saturday afternoon suggests a quiet but far from sleepy Montrose.

Young boys in baggy shorts and oversize plaid flannel shirts hang out on skateboards at Billy's Ski & Sport, which carries ski, snowboard and skate gear as well as street wear by Stussy, Mossimo, Quiksilver and Red Sand. Owner Alan Amitin believes his store pulls customers from as far away as the beach cities because they like dealing with a business where "they can talk directly with the owner."

Up the block, Tom Williams, owner of Uncle Tom's Toys, is working on plans for a second store in the neighborhood, Tom's Bargains Galore, that will sell everything from snack foods to household cleaners at a discount. He believes that old-fashion hospitality is only a small part of what makes Montrose special. "People don't have time to shop anymore and are looking for places like Montrose where they can get in and out," he says, noting the abundance of parking around the businesses.

Meanwhile, at the Candle Tree, owner Frank Roberts shares news of the newly erected Montrose War Memorial with a handful of regulars as his wife, Elinor, shows off the store's decorative china and crafts. Frank is unsure whether it's the aroma of the coffee beans or the potpourri that lures shoppers. "But anyway, it smells good," he says.

Highlights of Montrose Shopping Park include:

* Readers Edge Bookshop: Offers classic as well as obscure literature and poetry; hosts readings and music recitals every Friday evening (except during December).

* Pam's: Carries contemporary women's shoes, accessories, weekend and career wear. Labels include Nine West, California Ivy and Chava. Dress prices range from $36 to $85; blouses start at $38, and slacks and skirts at $36.

* Kimmel-Meehan Clothiers: Sells traditional men's labels, such as Cutter & Buck, Pendleton, Amicus, Reyn Spooner shirts and Crossings sweaters.

* Mont Bowl: A '50s-era eight-lane bowling alley often used as a film set and cited as a landmark by architectural historians. The green tile building is also a gathering spot for town meetings, fund-raisers and private parties.

* Once Upon a Time: Children's bookstore and gift shop regularly hosts adult group discussions and children's story hours.

A Place Where Past Is Present

What: Montrose Shopping Park

Where: Between Verdugo Road and Las Palmas Avenue. Exit the Glendale Freeway at Verdugo.

Hours: Most stores are open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; some have extended and/or Sunday hours through the holiday shopping season.

Restaurants: The casual City Hall Coffee Shop and eight-lane Mont Bowl both offer food. Relatively new and trendy eateries include Rocky Cola Cafe (a Hard Rock wanna-be) and Star Cafe (a bohemian-style spot with poster-splashed brick walls).

Parking: Metered parking along Honolulu Avenue and free parking behind stores.

Montrose Shopping Park: Despite an influx of immigrants, not much has changed since the first stores opened in the early 1930s.

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