YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Seeking a change of heart, lickety-split

Customers back the longtime owner of a Carson ice cream parlor whose lease isn't being renewed.

December 09, 2007|Tiffany Hsu | Times Staff Writer

They weren't quite screaming for ice cream, but the crowd did march vigorously outside of Ken's Ice Cream Parlor in Carson on Saturday, a last-ditch attempt to show support for a much-loved shop that will soon lose its lease.

Carrying "Save Small Businesses" and other signs in one hand and ice cream cones in the other, about 20 Ken's aficionados lamented the latest predicament of owner Wanda Johnson-Pope, 68.

Her shop has been a community hangout for generations of customers who swapped gossip while savoring flavors such as bubble-gum.

"It's a nice family-oriented hangout spot where I run into old high school friends and their kids," said supporter Melvin Tate, 43, who worked there as a teenager. "It'll put a gap in the community if it goes, like a good friend that dies."

Five years ago, the manager of the strip mall that houses Ken's tried to terminate the parlor's lease after signing a "no-competitors" agreement with a Baskin-Robbins that had moved into the same mall.

When Johnson-Pope refused to budge, she was sued by mall management, Summit Team Inc. She won a five-year extension.

But her lease is up again, and Johnson-Pope said Summit has refused to renew it. She was sent a 30-day eviction notice two weeks ago.

Over the summer, Summit notified her in a letter that "due to contractual obligations . . . we have no choice but to terminate your lease upon the end of the court-ordered extension."

Representatives from Summit could not be reached for comment, and the property owner, Sonny Bhullar, declined to comment, as did Ishtiaq Khan, the owner of the Baskin-Robbins near Ken's.

Johnson-Pope asked her customers for support, and the parlor's fans rallied behind their community ice cream shop.

Hundreds of customers and nearby store owners have signed petitions on behalf of the parlor, and about 20 people showed up Saturday for the march around the mall.

For Ray Aldridge Jr., an economic development commissioner for the city and a frequent Ken's customer, the shop represents a local casualty of Carson's recent growth that displaced several small businesses when national chains moved in.

Carson is a place where "everyone wants to move in and developers have decided they don't want mom-and-pop shops anymore," Aldridge said. "But locals wouldn't have a problem with the big names if we didn't already have shops we're satisfied with."

Johnson-Pope said she was looking into opening at Victoria Park, across from the Home Depot Center, where she already has a concession contract at the sports complex.

But she worries about the estimated $15,000 cost of moving during a slow business season.

"We've done everything we can, and pray the owner changes his mind, but I can't just sit here and mope about it," she said.

Ken's, which is squeezed into 375 square feet next to a liquor store and restaurant, is a stone's throw from Baskin-Robbins. The linoleum wallpaper from the parlor's opening still lines the walls, now adorned with postcards from customers and photos of visitors, including the "CSI: Miami" cast and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Ken's was the only ice cream parlor in Carson when Johnson-Pope opened it with $12,000 from her husband, she said.

There are now four Baskin-Robbins and a Cold Stone Creamery in town.

Summit's second refusal to renew Johnson-Pope's lease surprised the shop's namesake, her son Ken Johnson, 43.

The Cerritos resident said he and his two sons spent much of their childhoods in the shop.

"I understand the business and competition aspects, but it's important to look past that," Johnson said. "Baskin-Robbins and Ken's attract different customers, and when we've coexisted, we've both done well."


Los Angeles Times Articles