When Juan Armando opened a clothing store on Rodeo Drive three years ago, he became the first African American retailer on the tony street. Now, Armando is the first entrepreneur to bring Beverly Hills to Hawthorne.
Four months ago, Armando opened an antiques store, Armando's Home Collection, in the Hawthorne Plaza mall and soon will open Cafe Armando and Armando Sports. When the two new businesses debut in late September, Hawthorne will have its own Rodeo Drive, which he will call Rue Armando Rodeo Lane.
"This is what the community needs to see done," said the 35-year-old Armando. "Young people need to see a successful businessman in their community so that they are able to see that their dreams can come true."
In 1979, Armando took a Greyhound bus from his native Marshall, Texas, to South-Central Los Angeles to live with a great-aunt. He had just finished high school and wanted to go into the fashion industry so he got a job at a shoe store in Culver City's Fox Hills Mall and promised himself that one day he would open a store there.
By 1983 Armando was on his way. He opened a clothing store in downtown Inglewood and in 1989 he opened stores in Baldwin Hills and at the Fox Hills Mall. But opening a store on Rodeo Drive was always his dream, and 1993 he shut down his stores and made the move to Beverly Hills.
Now that Armando has been a success on one of the ritziest streets in the world, he says wants to bring that experience back to the black community.
He says he hopes his store will help boost the economy and show other African American entrepreneurs that they can be successful there while acting as a role model to the youth in the community.
"I eventually want to bring kids from all the schools in the area into the store," Armando said. "Many youngsters only have musicians and sports heroes to look up to, but they need to see successful business owners, too."
Indeed, Hawthorne City Manager Bud Cormier said businesses like Armando's will play a key role in revitalizing the city's economy. Cormier said the Hawthorne Plaza has had several owners. It was purchased last fall by developer Danny Bakewell who has been drumming up new business in the mall.
"We've been hearing a lot of 'Have you seen the new store in the mall?,' " Cormier said.