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Small Businessman Honored for Recovery After the L.A. Riots


Lyn Perry sat at home with his family, on April 30, 1992, watching television reports of the Los Angeles riots that followed the verdict in the Rodney G. King beating trial.

They watched as the cameras showed looters hauling merchandise out of Perry's 14-year-old Wilshire TV & Stereo shop on Western Avenue. They watched as the front of the store was torn up and the building was set on fire.

With his entire inventory gone and losses of property and merchandise topping $300,000, Perry had serious doubts about reopening his store.

But within six months, Perry was back in business, having relocated Wilshire TV & Stereo to Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks.

A few years later, Perry not only is back on his feet but he's built up a solid customer base. In 1996, Perry had sales of more than $3 million, and he expects to top $4 million in 1997.

For his efforts, Perry was one of nine California entrepreneurs given a Blue Chip Enterprise Initiative Award by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Nation's Business magazine and the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

The annual awards honor business people throughout the country who have rebuilt their operations after suffering devastating setbacks.

"Clearly, looking back, if I [had known that I'd have] to go through what we did from April 30, 1992, up to the present, I don't know if I'd be willing. But I guess you need to feed your family, and having a job is a strong motivator," said Perry, who in March was named chairman of the Westlake Village Chamber of Commerce.

"I think motivation and pride helped me," Perry said. "And I thought I had a very strong ability to run a small business."

Like many shop owners caught in the middle of the L.A. riots, Perry tried to protect his business. He, his wife, Cynthia, and the store manager began the second day of rioting at the store, guns and rifles in hand.

"The first thing I did was get to the store and open for business as usual," Perry said. "By 11 or 12 o'clock, some of my competitors in the area had closed their businesses already and were calling me to strongly suggest that I close the store and get out. Some friends in the business came by and literally pleaded with me to get out of the store."

Perry monitored the rioting by television and said he doubted the violence would progress to his neighborhood. But in the early afternoon, police cars began speeding down Western Avenue, he said.

"Then cars full of people began driving up and down the street," he said. "They were yelling obscenities and throwing objects."

At that point, leaving the building became more conceivable.

"Somehow I had the wisdom to call our insurance company," Perry said. "It was either that or stay and fight it out because I didn't think we would be covered. Thank God our insurance man was in."

To document that the store was in business up to that time, Perry was advised to videotape the store, back up his computer files and make a bank deposit that day. About 2 p.m., he and his wife drove to the bank and headed home.

The following day, Perry returned to the store for the last time, retrieving some business records, part of a computer, wet floppy disks and a broken chair.

Insurance covered most of the losses. And on top of the insurance money, Perry received a $225,000 loan from the Small Business Administration. The combined funds were enough to restart Wilshire TV & Stereo at a 7,000-square-foot location that formerly housed Creative Stereo & Video.

"Creative Stereo was doing $800,000 in sales in this store and three years later we have increased to $3 million," he said.

Perry expects his success to continue, despite industry trends to the contrary.

"The consumer electronics market is soft," he said. "The industry as a whole is having some problems and there continues to be a shakeout of independents and multi-store individuals, and even some of the majors aren't showing a profit. But my feeling is, having only one location and normally being here six and seven days a week, I really have my finger on the pulse of my business."

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