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Larchmont loses another landmark

'They're destroying the village,' says a neighbor as the 82-year-old hardware shop closes.

January 01, 2008|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

As they stocked up one last time on nuts, bolts and nails, some were worrying Monday that Larchmont Village was being hammered.

The quaint shopping district's 82-year-old hardware store was closing Monday, the latest victim of what many fear is an assault on mom-and-pop businesses by developers who are buying up the storefront shops and boutiques.

Anguished locals threw a farewell party on the tree-shaded sidewalk in front of Larchmont Hardware, serving pizza, cake and cookies to shoppers stopping in to say farewell.

"Bye-bye, Larchmont Hardware store," said Melissa Carrey, cradling a piece of window screen and a pair of houseplant holders as she stood in the cash register line and took one last look at the tiny shop's towering shelves, now mostly empty.

Carrey has patronized the store since moving into the Larchmont area 18 years ago. Near the front door she spied store manager Bertha Arroyo, who has worked 21 years at the shop. "Goodbye Bertha, I'll miss you!" she cried out.

A string of longtime patrons, some with small children in tow, sought out Arroyo to hug her.

"I'll miss these people. I'll miss seeing these little kids grow up," Arroyo said. "One guy, 19 or 20, came in to say goodbye. He's been coming here with his dad since he was a toddler."

That small-town atmosphere is increasingly under siege in Larchmont Village, said those visiting the hardware store for the last time.

The sale of another Larchmont Village building forced the September closure of the 17-year-old La Luna Ristorante. That eviction order led to an ultimately futile community-wide campaign to save the family-friendly Italian restaurant.

La Luna's former chef and co-owner, Robertino Giovannelli, stopped in the hardware store Monday to say goodbye.

"They're destroying the village," he said. "The people in this neighborhood are great. Those who are destroying it are not."

An investor purchased the 6,720-square-foot building housing the hardware store, Van Dry Cleaning and Shoe Repair shop, and Sam's Bagels shop for about $8 million in November, according to Los Angeles County records. All three commercial tenants, along with occupants of four small apartment units above the stores, were evicted.

The new owner, Albert Mizrahi of Beverly Hills, could not be reached Monday.

But hardware store operator Russ Wilson said the rumor on Larchmont Boulevard was that a Panda Express takeout restaurant may move in.

The cleaners was closed Monday. Sam's Bagels manager Edwin Sierra said his 17-year-old shop will close its doors next month. "We're looking everywhere for a place to move, but we haven't found anything yet," Sierra said.

Wilson, who acquired the hardware store in 1982 from the circa-1925 shop's original owner's family, said he sought unsuccessfully to purchase the storefront.

"I tried for 28 years to buy this building. The customers on this street were wonderful. They embraced every employee that worked here. When one of the workers, Mario Valencia, who had been here 20 years, died six months ago 350 people showed up for his funeral."

All of Larchmont Hardware's employees will be given jobs at another store owned by Wilson, Koontz Hardware in West Hollywood.

That was of some consolation to customers. Many promised to follow them there.

"This place is like the TV show 'Cheers,' where everybody knows your name," said 18-year patron Randy Esada, who owns a Larchmont-area home furnishings store and, with partner Dave Wilcox, organized Monday's farewell party.

Ann Moacamin, a nearby resident and a Larchmont Hardware customer for 35 years, said the threat to Larchmont Village's small independent businesses is real. Chain operations such as Starbucks, Blockbuster Video, Jamba Juice and Peet's Coffee and Tea can afford high rents that mom-and-pop owners cannot, she said.

"Once these small shops close I wouldn't be surprised that the next things on this street to go will be the trees," Moacamin said.

Actress Laura Leigh Hughes, who has lived in the Larchmont area for 20 years, said she feared the same thing.

"Isn't anybody doing anything to preserve this street?" Hughes asked. "This is heart-breaking."

bob.pool@latimes.com

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