Friday, October 01, 2004

Go West(wood), Young Man

I have a secret crush. No, not on a boy, on a place - Westwood Village. I am digging on it and I'm afraid it's not just proximity; I honestly like it here.

I have to admit, I never planned on becoming a Westsider. Since I arrived in Los Angeles in '92, I always lived east of La Brea or in the foothills. But beginning a couple of years ago, for work purposes, a Westside existence just made sense. In addition to making my life a lot easier, I get to feel morally superior to all the people commuting from Lancaster or Thousand Oaks who are scumming up the air.

Anyhow, being in the area gave me a new perspective on the Village, which once upon a time was so confusing to me that I got lost wandering from Aahs! to the Bruin. Now, I can see in my mind's eye the buildings located at most given intersections. I know where to park in the evening to avoid paying at the lots. I can even tell you where you can get a corn dog, like you're at a carnival or something.

There are recurring articles every six months or so in the Los Angeles Business Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and/or the Westside Independent bemoaning the demise of the area and quoting the same pathetic attention-seekers who seem to get a perverse joy out of any downturn in local fortune. Lazarus-like, Westwood has risen from the dead and died again at least half a dozen times in the past three years, according to these papers and doomsayers.

But the thing is, when I hit Westwood to catch a movie or have drinks and dessert at Palomino after dinner, there's always a bustle, there's always foot traffic. And there are stores that make it long-term, like Bel-Air Camera or Sarah Leonard Jewelers. There are always new tenants coming in, albeit it to take the place of those that went under. Peet's Coffee is slated to open a week from this Sunday at the former home of La Salsa; a Bebe store is under construction at the old Gap location; and an Ono Hawaiian BBQ spot is moving in next to Subway, where California Pasta Company gave it the old college try but didn't quite make it.

I wouldn't say the Village is dead, but I would say it has some sort of long-term, low-key, debilitating illness, like chronic fatigue syndrome. I mean, why is it that there are people around but businesses fail? Is it because, like at John Ashcroft's house, dancing is not allowed? Because there isn't a Banana Republic and a Pottery Barn? Because there IS parking - but it's not free? Because the former home of Circuit City sits empty, instead of housing an Old Navy? And if these are the problems, then what are the solutions?

I think a recent article by Colleen Honigsberg in the UCLA student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, helps shed some light on the situation and gives some guidance on how to improve the Village, based on her own experience and input from local merchants. But it's not enough to have ideas; there has to be action. Sadly, the Village is rife with folks who would rather point fingers and grumble to local papers than do the work to get Westwood back to the glory days. As my dad used to say, too many chiefs, not enough Indians.

I'm going to be spending a lot of time in the Village in the coming months, trying to get a handle on what works and what doesn't. I'm also going to try to do some restaurant reviews, because there are a lot of good eateries that you should visit, from the quick and cheap to the hot and chic. But I'd like to hear your thoughts about how to improve things if you know the Village, or used to know the Village, or you want to know the Village but are afraid to come here because the you heard the parking sucks. I mean, I've got a crush on this place, but like any woman, I've got just a few things I want to fix before I make a commitment.

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