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East L.A.'s Angelus Furniture Prepares for Its 2nd 100 Years

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January 22, 1995|Irwin Greenberg | Irwin Greenberg, 61, is the owner of Angelus Furniture, which has been in his family for nearly a century. The store has been located in East Los Angeles since the 1920s. Currently, his store at 3650 E. Olympic Blvd. is being renovated in partnership with TELACU, a nonprofit community development organization. In June, they expect to open the Angelus Grand Plaza, a $9.5 - million commercial center. Greenberg, who lives in Newport Beach, also owns two furniture stores in Orange County. He was interviewed by Karen E. Klein

I have always been very involved in this business. This is my family's business and I love it.

I started working here when I was 10 and I've worked every job you can think of, from manufacturing to trucks to warehouse to office. I always spent my summers working for my family. In fact, this is the only company I've ever worked for.

I have a great deal of confidence in the area and in the Hispanic market. I feel it's a terrific market with huge potential that has been overlooked.

Having been in the area so long, I know that you have the most loyal patrons you can find. If you treat people right, they will continue to come back to you. Also, there is very little competition. Surveys show that 85% of the shoppers in East L.A. have to go out of the area to buy.

My grandfather moved his family from Philadelphia to the West Coast around the turn of the century. His name was Harry Siskin.

The business was originally on Central Avenue in Downtown, then it moved to a manufacturing plant on East Pico near Central and San Pedro.

He was a very innovative man--a cabinetmaker and an upholsterer, and the business was successful from the start. It grew from a small upholstery company to a manufacturer of wood furniture. When they needed a bigger facility, they started building our location in East L.A. We moved there in 1928, when the East Los Angeles/Boyle Heights area was predominantly Jewish, and my grandparents being Jewish, I think they felt comfortable there. Around the time of World War II, the area began becoming more Hispanic.

My father worked at Angelus as an accountant in the 1920s and met my mother in the office. When my grandfather died in 1949, my father and my four uncles started running the business.

Then, during the 1960s, my dad and two of my uncles died within a six-month period. That left the third generation--myself and two cousins--to run the operation. During the 1960s, we opened four more stores, and we merged with a store in Beverly Hills. We were doing $20 million a year in business.

In 1969, we decided we wanted to grow, and we needed some outside capital to do that. So, we sold the business, and I remained on the board of directors so the family could continue operating it. But the company that bought us ended up in bankruptcy.

In 1974, I repurchased Angelus. I bought back the name and furniture assets from the bankruptcy estate and started all over again. During that first year, I did about $1 million in business.

During the 1970s and '80s, we advertised to people all over L.A. as a huge discount furniture store.. By 1987 or '88, our volume was up to $24 million. But again, we saw the business climate in East Los Angeles changing. The Anglo population and the black population became more reluctant to come to East L.A. People weren't willing to drive 45 minutes to come to our store.

Over the next three years, as the business climate started to decline, our business kind of fell apart.

We knew East L.A. was still a good area. We just had to change what we were doing there. In early 1990, we made the change from being this Anglo furniture store to a Hispanic type of situation.

We had a contact who put us in touch with (L.A. City Councilman) Richard Alatorre. He thought our idea (for the commercial center) was terrific. We also contacted the chairman and president of TELACU, the East Los Angeles Community Union. We ended up selling half our building to them and formed this 50-50 partnership called the Angelus Grand Plaza.

We have signed Food 4 Less, a Sav-on drugstore and Chief Auto Parts as first-floor tenants. The second floor will be our 230,000-square-foot Angelus Home Center. The great thing is that everybody is going to benefit. There will be more jobs in the neighborhood and there will be a shopping area that the East L.A. neighborhood can feel proud of.

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