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During this Carmageddon, people expect business as usual

Last year's 405 Freeway closure caused fears of awful traffic jams — which didn't materialize. Many Westside and San Fernando Valley merchants and customers say they won't be fooled again.

September 28, 2012|By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times

Forget about panic. This weekend's big closure along the 405 Freeway in western Los Angeles is prompting little more than a ho-hum and a few worries from area businesses and workers. They say they can't forget being terrorized before the spectacular traffic jams expected last year.

"I don't think there will be problems," said Davis Dulnuan, manager of a martial arts school in Sherman Oaks. "People will find a way to work around it."

After warning about hyper-gridlock that never happened a year ago, city officials are once again urging people to stay away and to shop locally. But Westside and San Fernando Valley merchants and their customers say they won't be fooled again.

PHOTOS: Freeway construction noise

During the first Carmageddon, in July 2011, businesses braced for a weekend without customers. Bosses and workers gave themselves hours for commutes that normally took 30 minutes. One establishment scheduled a block party, replete with a DJ and "I survived Carmageddon" mugs to attract customers.

This time, some merchants said that there's no panic and that they expected local customers to keep their shopping and other activities close to normal in volume.

The toned-down approach to this weekend's Carmageddon II includes incentives to steer residents to local businesses and keep them from driving much near the shut-down area. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for example, has an interactive map on its website at http://www.metro.net that highlights nearly 300 businesses that are offering discounts during the closure.

But memories of last year's hype linger. "I left for work at 6 a.m. in the morning to drive from Santa Monica to Sherman Oaks last time," recalled Dulnuan, who helps manage Krav Maga Worldwide Training Centers, where weekend classes start at 9 a.m., "only to find that there was no traffic and it didn't affect our attendance at all."

A full slate of classes, seminars and belt testing are scheduled this weekend at the martial arts chain's two Ventura Boulevard locations in Sherman Oaks, he said.

Carmageddon II is the latest step of a $1-billion road improvement project. The second half of the 80-foot-tall Mulholland Drive bridge will be demolished so the 405 Freeway can be widened. A northbound carpool lane will be added through that part of the Sepulveda Pass.

For the second time in 14 months, the 10-mile stretch of the 405 between the 10 and 101 freeways will be closed.

The Krav Maga schools are just north of the shut-down area, on Ventura Boulevard, where there are plenty of nearby customers.

A few blocks west, the manager of a Mulberry Street Pizzeria waves his hand as if he's swatting at a bothersome insect when Carmageddon II is mentioned.

Jose Rubio expects local customers to keep his pizzeria business up, just like they did last year. "Business was almost the same as usual. Most of my customers live near here anyway."

"But," Rubio said, "you never know."

A few blocks farther west on Ventura Boulevard, workers at the Casa de Flores flower shop were wondering whether they would notice Carmageddon II.

Flowers often are bought on a whim anyway, saleswoman Tracey To said. The shop gets 10 to 20 walk-in customers from nearby neighborhoods, she said, and they weren't expecting things to be different this weekend.

"People aren't letting it bother them," To said. "If we lose a little business, it will come back."

Few businesses jumped on last year's Carmageddon hype more than the Showbiz Store and Cafe in Westwood, just east of the 405.

The ground-floor business combines an entertainment industry software store with a coffee shop where people can network over smoothies, coffee drinks and food. A sign urges patrons to try "the love potion," a cherry-flavored espresso brew.

The Showbiz Store and Cafe held the block party with the DJ and Carmageddon mugs in 2011.

"Last time around, everyone just freaked out," manager Margaret Han said. "Then a few brave and intrepid souls ventured out to see what was really happening." Social media took over from there, she said, swelling the clientele to 150 people, up from about 40 on a normal Saturday or Sunday.

Han said nothing special is planned for this weekend, but she has had a few nagging worries that people will take the freeway closure so lightly this time that there might be a traffic problem.

The Mobil gas station at the corner of Santa Monica and Sepulveda boulevards is a few blocks south of the Showbiz Store and Cafe. There, indoor space is shared with a deli and grill eatery. The manager, who goes by the name Manik, isn't worried about Carmageddon II.

Surrounded by office buildings, Manik has a thriving weekday business that tails off sharply on Saturdays and drops to almost nothing on Sundays.

"I will probably have a little less business" this weekend than usual, Manik said.

Ravi Govindan's National News and Magazine Stand, on Sepulveda near National Boulevard, sits near the southern terminus of the Carmageddon zone.

"It will be business as usual, I think," said Govindan, adding cautiously: "How can anyone predict customers?"

ron.white@latimes.com

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