Thursday, July 21, 2005

L.A. Street Life

It's Alternative News Thursday, and the latest LA Weekly includes an interesting article on the downtown weekend shopping hub in the Fashion District. But, if you want an even more culturally dislocating marketing experience, try walking around greater Koreatown on an early Saturday evening when the Latino sidewalk hawkers lay out their wares for sale.

Talk about street life: The 20 blocks that are devoted to low-end but extremely high-volume retail sales are mobbed on weekends. This is where the immigrant underclass shops, arriving on foot and by bus, buying everything from designer seconds to overstock to bootleg DVDs and lovebirds, meantime eating sliced mangoes, watermelon and cucumbers with lime, salt and chile, while the tantalizing smell of sausages cooking with onions and peppers on sidewalk grills wafts over the crowd. The scene along the series of alleys and covered passageways and sidewalks — where shops spill out onto the street and vendors from all nations hawk their wares, some even climbing ladders in order to maximize visibility over the elbow-to-elbow hubbub — is vivid, tactile, like an outdoor souk or bazaar.

This isn’t the nice and neat American Way of Shopping with which Angelenos are all so familiar, but it sure is more interesting. There are no chain stores here. Ninety-five percent of retailers are mom-and-pop enterprises employing five or fewer people. Even St. Joseph’s Church has exploited its Fashion District location, having built out the circumference of its property with retail stores and paying its monthly dues into the local business improvement district. But while retail sales are estimated at an impressive $1 billion annually, it’s the $7 billion wholesale industry that booms.

“The Intersection,” as it’s called, at Ninth and Los Angeles, has more square footage devoted to the fashion industry than anywhere in the universe — with the huge California Market Center, the largest apparel wholesale mart in the U.S., on one corner, and the Cooper Building, the Streamline Modern Gerry Building, and the New Mart on the other corners. Southern California has lost 30,000 manufacturing jobs, mostly to China, but they’ve been replaced with higher-skilled, better-paying jobs in the wholesale business, and L.A. now has more apparel jobs than New York City....

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