Sam Joma, who owns a new electronic appliance shop on Pacific Boulevard, beamed as potential customers made their way along the crowded Huntington Park thoroughfare.
Across the way, an unlicensed street vendor nervously kicked her wooden crate filled with small fruit baskets out of sight until a police cruiser passed. A moment later she quickly sold two orders of watermelon and pineapple chunks for $1 each.
And a block or so down the boulevard, a teen-age boy hustled back and forth trying to peddle fake identification cards. "\o7 Mica\f7 ? \o7 Mica\f7 ?" he asked hopefully.
It is all part of what is accepted, or at least expected, by the thousands of shoppers, merchants, retirees, teen-agers, criminals, panhandlers and others who spend time each day on thriving Pacific Boulevard.
To outsiders, Pacific Boulevard may be most familiar as the place that became unruly after thousands jammed the strip in June to celebrate Mexico's advancement in the World Cup. But to local residents, the boulevard is a vital commercial district with about 400 businesses that account for at least one-third of the annual $3 million in sales tax revenue. It has emerged in recent years as a place that Latino newcomers throughout the region find both lively and comforting.
"That boulevard keeps this city alive," said Mayor Richard V. Loya. "It really does bring in a lot of people."
And it is a strip still in transition from the largely white, blue-collar area it had been for so many years after Huntington Park was incorporated in the early 1900s. As Latinos poured into the area in recent years looking for better lives, businesses began to tailor themselves to the new clientele.
The city, located just southeast of Downtown, has a population that officials say is easily 95% Latino. The 1990 U.S. Census counted more than 56,000 residents in Huntington Park, but local officials say that factoring in recent arrivals, illegal residents and others missed by the count raises the total estimated population to 75,000.
For many, the success of Pacific Boulevard registers in cash what many other largely Latino communities nationwide can calculate only as potential buying power. The boulevard is vibrant even as the community struggles with common urban ills such as low income and education levels and crime.
So, those along the boulevard say, the widespread attention generated when the World Cup soccer celebration became too rowdy and led to the temporary closing of the strip by city officials was misleading. Local boosters--while acknowledging some persistent problems with crime and trash--call the soccer trouble unrepresentative of daily activity along Pacific Boulevard.
For hundreds of merchants, both licensed and illegal, Pacific Boulevard is a virtual dreamland of pedestrian and car traffic. It is a nearly three-mile strip running north and south from near Leonis Boulevard to about Broadway.
Along the way, especially between Slauson and Florence avenues, the chatter of pedestrians is almost exclusively in Spanish. As people maneuver past each other, laughter mixes with an occasional angry voice or the familiar wail of an unhappy child. On every block, workers hand out leaflets promoting all kinds of special bargains.
Music coming from inside food shops and record stores inevitably is Latin.
Joma, whose shop, Super Expo Inc., opened in late August, is banking on appealing to the tastes of predominantly Latino customers. Risks exist for any business, but the boulevard seems as good as it gets for selling stereos, televisions and other electronic merchandise, he said.
"I came (to scout a location) on a weekend and it was really busy so I decided to take the place," he said. "I know Latino people like to buy the kinds of appliances we have. Plus, this is the busiest street in the area."
Donald L. Jeffers, the city's chief administrative officer, agreed, adding that the most recent quarterly figures available showed that retail sales on the strip increased about 7% or 8% early this year compared to the same period in 1993.
"Obviously, it's our main shopping district," Jeffers said. "We do give the boulevard a lot of attention."
It seems anything anyone would want is available on the boulevard.
The attractions include movie theaters, restaurants, bridal shops and dance halls. Florists, dentists and even fortunetellers are available.
Between Clarendon and Gage avenues, the China Bowl Express--where Asian workers take orders in Spanish without blinking an eye--is next to Tacos Mexico, which is next to California Sports Wear. A bit south, near Flower Street, is a pawnshop called Casa de Empeno, which is alongside Katty's Bridal Shop, Associates-Financial Services and El Indio Amazonico, which besides offering goods and services for a price encourages passersby to find out their horoscopes for free.