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Community News: Southwest

CRENSHAW : In Industrial Area, a Rain Forest Thrives

November 27, 1994|ERIN J. AUBRY

When Felicia Fisher decided last year to relocate her fine furniture restoration and manufacturing business to the Crenshaw district, friends in the industry issued dire predictions.

"They didn't think it was feasible," recalled Fisher. "They said the community just couldn't support this kind of thing."

A year later, Fisher is having the last laugh. Rain Forest, at 4521 Jefferson Blvd. in an industrial area east of La Brea Avenue, is thriving.

Fisher and business partner Luis Aravena arrived with a scant three accounts and now boast more than 200. Most of the clients are homeowners in Baldwin Hills, View Park, Ladera Heights and other affluent pockets of the Crenshaw district.

Fisher, who is African American, said the company's success is particularly gratifying because the elegant goods she and Aravena design and produce are not usually associated with the largely black clientele Rain Forest has cultivated.

The community not only provides a good client base, said Aravena, but it is also full of talented people that Rain Forest counts among its 12 furniture makers, manufacturers and other employees.

"Given the opportunity, anyone can learn to do this work," said the Chilean native, seated on a plush, richly upholstered sofa in Rain Forest's showroom.

"The riots brought a lot of talk and photo opportunities for politicians, but who is really investing in the communities? Businesses need to come here."

The 4-year-old company restores and custom-makes sofas, chairs, cabinets, armoires and antique reproductions.

Fisher said she moved from Alameda Street near Slauson Avenue to Crenshaw after the sour economy forced her to reassess company goals.

Though Rain Forest was doing poorly after losing several plum accounts with furniture chain stores that went out of business, Fisher and Aravena decided to make a fresh start.

Rain Forest is now one of the few but growing number of minority-owned businesses along the industrial corridor on Jefferson.

"I realized that if we waited for big accounts to come back around, we would die," recalled Fisher, anex-model and fashion designer who helped found the year-old Society of African American Interior Designers.

Rain Forest not only recycles its dollars in the community, it also recycles its wood waste.

All wood byproducts except sawdust are used in a packaging system of Rain Forest's own design that eliminates the need for environmentally unfriendly Styrofoam.

Aravena said he hopes that consumers realize that fine, one-of-a-kind wares do not have to be imported to be of high quality.

"Most people think that furniture like this is from Europe, from countries like Italy," he said. "They don't realize that we sell it and make it right here."

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