THERE’S NO DONKEYS HERE?
AN INSIDER’S GLIMPSE AT THE MELROSE BIOSPHERE
I grew up in a neighborhood where all the kids played in the street, our parents were best friends, and the gossip flowed like the matching fountains on our lawns. It was an East Coast mold for suburban living and communal life. Honestly, it wasn’t that much of a shock moving to Los Angeles…but, it was far from the norm.
Soon as I arrived full of pomp and confidence, I was overwhelmed by the sentiment that there was a lack of communities here. Nonetheless, I have discovered this sense of communal belonging again, and its home is in a most unlikely place. I realize that the cynic in most Angelenos is probably unconvinced that this sense of nostalgia could be encapsulated somewhere within our fair city, but don’t get me wrong: I am not describing a warm fuzzy feeling, but more of a sense of community in a place that is most fitting when it comes to the collusion of the best from many other places of LA. It’s a family that you love, despite their imperfections and complete and total dysfunction.
I found this family when I started working in one of the overflowing myriad of stores on the infamous Melrose Avenue. To some, Melrose is a sorted, seedy street in the middle of Hollywood, pawning its goods on the unsuspecting passer-bys; to others, it is the Mecca of retail, and I soon came to find that it was most definitely proud to be a composite of both.
This amazing street is a schizophrenic cross between flea market, upscale boutique, and smoke shop, sprinkled with eateries, haberdasheries, the homeless, and celebrities alike. It is the homeland of my newfound family and a breed of camaraderie all its own. I know it sounds cheesy, but there really is a palpable connection between the shopkeepers on Melrose. There is something about the knowledge of the ups and downs, the competition, and the hustle that keeps us akin.
When a new store opens—as mine did a few months ago, and as I noticed slowly over our first few days—each and every Melrose merchant, salesperson, and stock boy comes by to check you out. As with our store, they come in, lurk up and down your floors like a Persian ready to pounce (as would we perform later in a new restaurant that popped up across the street and a boutique that opened a block down).
Each person checked out our merchandise, sized up their competition, wished us luck, offered us discounts, brought over a drink and a story. Soon enough, I became acquainted with every store within a few blocks, knew their histories, their families, and maybe a funny anecdote or three. Tensions can arise between neighbors—case in point: the store next to us decorated their store front with a cheaper, faux version of ours and started offering knock-off renderings of our clothes; but, they were still part of our community and we simply ignored them as one would blissfully disregard an alcoholic uncle at a family BBQ.
I do have to admit that it is a strange breed of people who can stand the shame and revel in the raw debauchery of pushing a product in the trenches of Melrose. Each block is quite different than any of the others—my block marks the end of the retail market and can be viewed as the cheaper end of the strip—but don’t get me wrong: none of the people who own stores there feel that way.
We proudly stand outside our stores smoking cigarettes, commenting on the lack of traffic on the street, when suddenly a tourist and his wife appear, dressed in tacky money, but they’re holding bags! So, as we’ve done for months before and will continue to do so for months into the future, we take a short breath, and hope to God they come in the store, enjoy the product, connect with me, delight in the fit, and, finally, like each other enough so that someone can pay for the damn thing and I can get back to…smoking in front, waiting for whatever’s next.