Fewer customers hurting Leimert Park businesses

imageBy Theresa Pablos

The economic downturn has been devastating for Obine Ador. He’s now in the process of closing his shop in Leimert Park Village. “It’s because the business here isn’t like it used to be,” he explains.

Ador opened the African art store, called African Heritage and Antique Collection, in Leimert Park about five years ago. He remembers when business was better.

“People were looking for African medallions, masks, clothes… It was a trend,” says Ador, who believes his loss might have been preventable if the Leimert Park Village Merchants Association (LPVMA) was in better shape. LPVMA was started in 1933 to help stores in Leimert Park Village.

“I can’t say it’s helpful. They haven’t achieved anything,” he says. “Everybody has their opinion on how the thing should be, and nothing has come up as a result.”

The current president of the LPVMA is Jackie Ryan, co-owner of Zambezi Bazaar. She declined to comment about her work as association president, but she has recently made promotional efforts, such as creating fliers, banners and a website that publicize Leimert Park Village.

imageHowever, some storeowners think her marketing campaign has not drawn in enough new customers to keep stores open and flourishing.

“The leadership should be promoting here – promoting Leimert Park,” Ador says. “Laura used to be president and everybody liked her.”

He refers to Laura Hendrix, the former president of the LPVMA, who has owned Gallery Plus, an art store in Leimert Park Village, for 21 years. She agrees with Ador.

“The leadership hasn’t been as strong,” says Hendrix, who is no longer a member of the LPVMA. “We used to have at least 35 stores in the association.” Now, only about 20 stores comprise the LPVMA.

For Hendrix, her biggest success has been keeping her art store open for so many years. “It’s been rewarding to be here, to work with other merchants,” Hendrix says.

All of the storeowners in Leimert Park Village work closely together to promote business on the street. The collaborative effort to share customers has helped fill in the gaps that the LPVMA has not been able to. “We don’t try to exclude anybody,” Hendrix says. “It’s better than fighting for yourself.”

For about 80 years, Leimert Park businesses have been drawing customers with festivals. According to Hendrix, there are about three or four street-wide festivals throughout the year, mostly put on by non-profit groups, in addition to other events organized by local businesses.

“If you want more people to come, you have to have more events, something to spice things up,” says Barrington Bailey, a two-year employee of Adassa’s Island Café and Entertainment in Leimert Park Village.

imageBailey notices that more customers come in during special events like their buffet brunch and live jazz music every Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm. When customers come to Adassa’s Island Café for their highly rated Jamaican food, other businesses on the street also get customers.

Mia Robinson, a regular at Addassa’s, began walking the street after visiting the restaurant one time. “I’ve been to the bookstore,” she says. “People have done book signings, but I haven’t been [to the signings] yet, but I want to.”

While the LPVMA or the stores of Leimert Park Village are not as successful as they were in the past, they are not giving up. Even Ador who is closing his store plans to return.

“I’m going to come back and bring my African art.” He says he’s thinking of doing wholesale to supply the stores in Leimert Park Village.

In the meantime, Ador and other storeowners hope the economy recovers soon, so that Leimert Park Village can once again become a thriving cultural and business hub.