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BUSINESS : Store for Left-Handers Fits Just Right


Brenda Greene is living her entrepreneurial dream as owner of Left Out, a Santa Monica store that markets gadgets specially made for left-handed people.

The small shop in Santa Monica Place carries such goods as reverse-spiral corkscrews, video-taped golf instruction for lefties and pens with ink that doesn't smear as left-handed writers move their hands across the page.

For the left-handed, such products can greatly simplify life, but finding the merchandise, Greene says, has not been easy.

"Manufacturers don't want to spend any time producing these goods," the 35-year-old West Los Angeles resident said. "A lot of things can be made (for left-handed people) but companies see it as an obstacle and (believe) that there is not enough of a market."

Yet, in the year her store has been in operation, Greene has managed to line up goods--and customers.

Some of her clientele consists of right-handers buying for left-handed friends. But mostly, she sells directly to left-handers like Elaine Walker of Mar Vista. Walker had long wanted to crochet, but the only instructional books she could find were for right-handers--until, that is, she entered Left-Out on a recent evening.

Customers can choose from more than 300 items, including calculators with hand grips on the right side, instructional tennis and golf videos featuring left-handed athletes and a corkscrew that must be turned counterclockwise.

Prices range from 99 cents to $116--in most cases a bit higher than for similar goods for right-handers. A set of measuring cups that can be read when picked up with the left hand goes for $7.99 and a kitchen knife with a left-hander's handle sells for $6.25.

Greene says she became interested in the business several years ago when she visited a store for left-handers during a trip to her home state of Indiana. A left-hander herself, she had long resented having to write on right-handed school desks, twist her wrist to read measuring cups and turn her left-hand upside down to use right-handed scissors.

Her frustrations no doubt reflect those of left-handers in the population at large--about 9% of women and 13% of men. Though motivated to start her own store, Greene was low on entrepreneurial experience.

"I knew absolutely nothing (about running a business)," she said. "I had worked at J.C. Penney in college and that was as close as I'd come to retail."

She researched how to start a business and eventually found a Massachusetts distributor who specialized in left-handed goods.

With the help of friends, Greene opened Left Out in a rented space last fall in the Glendale Galleria. When her lease expired in May, she moved to the Westside shopping mall.

Greene considers herself equal parts entrepreneur and educator. Along with the left-handed spiral notebooks and measuring cups she also stocks instructional books and flyers.

She likes to remind customers of famous lefties, who have included Benjamin Franklin, Alexander the Great, Queen Victoria, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso, Joan of Arc, Bach and Harpo Marx. She'll do what it takes, she says, to help lefties overcome the centuries-old stigma that being left-handed is somehow sinister, the Latin word for left.

"(I try) to reassure (the customers) that there is nothing wrong with being a lefty," she said. "I try to create a homey place. I want people to know that somebody out there cares and that they are special."

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