We were driving up Eagle Rock Boulevard at 6 p.m. on Saturday night when we saw something we’ve rarely seen before: Signs of life! Almost every boutique northeast of the Fair Park Avenue crossing was ablaze with lights—and customers toting shopping bags were moving in and out of stores.
Balloons festooned storefronts graced by chic light displays and stylish wreaths. Hipster parents carried children in strollers, wagons and slings—one woman even carted three large dogs in a Radio Flyer. A Pie ’n Burger food truck took up residence in front of and —and the line for its famous burgers and fries snaked through the courtyard.
We had arrived during the last three-hour stretch of the neighborhood’s first-ever Small Business Saturday Block Party—and if the crowds were any indication, Eagle Rock’s retailers were having the best night they’d seen in several years, at least since the 2008 “Great Recession” first decimated local shopping traffic.
Leanna Lin of , who hosted a trunk show with purses and wallets by Tookata People, reported bustling crowds and a surprising tally at the cash register.
“Most Saturdays I get around 10 customers in,” said Lin, who, along with Traci Green of , organized most of the November 26 Block Party. “Today I got about 75 to 100 customers in and we rung up about 300 to 400 percent more than normal.”
‘All the Stores Were Full’
Along with 20-percent to 25-percent discounts on her trunk show merchandise, not to mention no sales tax and incentives on gifts with purchase for other customers, Lin also offered gourmet cookies from JAM Vegan Bakery and wine.
Sporting a "I Shop Local" sticker on her T-shirt, Lin walked the boulevard earlier in the day and was thrilled to note that “all the stores were full.” It was an exciting sight, not least because, as she put it, “it was a great way to jumpstart holiday shopping.”
Jill Hammer, the owner of , got into her store around noon immediately after jetting back from a business trip to Tokyo. “There were 15 people there,” she said, adding: “We had a lot of people who said they want to buy local.”
Jeremy and Debbie Kaplan, the husband-and-wife owners of Eagle Rock’s only bookstore, READ Books, reported at least three times as much traffic than on a typical Saturday. “When you actually have a line of people waiting, it’s weird,” said Jeremy, only half-jokingly. READ Books offered 10 percent off on all sales—and 20 percent off with a coupon pre-mailed to customers as well as to those who had shopped at the store this month.
Sasha Martinus, who owns clothing retailer , gave Block Party shoppers 15 percent off and featured a trunk show of pieces from San Francisco jeweler Voce Keen. Her biggest sale of the night came from a woman who “tried a bunch of jewelry on and just couldn’t bring herself to take it off. She just said, “‘I’ll take it all,’” said Martinus. “‘Just pull the price tags off while I’m wearing it.’”
‘Truly a People’s Neighborhood’
Martinus was thrilled by the crowds—at least 100 shoppers. “My regular customers came out to support a cause—local businesses,” she said. “And we got a lot of new customers who told me they never even knew we were here. It was super exciting to embrace this community and have it embrace us. Eagle Rock is truly a people’s neighborhood.”
Eagle Rock residents Melissa MacRay and Trixie Sison were among the shoppers who browsed Letters from LA’s well-edited collections of designer clothing. “We’re on this block a lot,” Sison said. “We like the items we find at these boutiques and we like supporting local stores.”
Sison explained that having grown up in the neighborhood—the human resources professional now lives off Yosemite Drive—she has seen the commercial strip change for the better, with many interesting retailers making Eagle Rock their home.
“We didn’t really come here for the discount,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter if something costs a few dollars more or less—for us that’s not really the point—we shop here because we like having this place around.”
Sison and MacRay traveled through many of the boulevard’s boutiques Saturday night and loved being among the crowds. “It feels festive,” said Sison. “It’s more enjoyable when there’s a lot of shoppers [and] depressing when it’s just you and the streets are dark.”
Vast Improvement over Small Business Saturday 2010
What a difference a year makes. The first Small Business Saturday in 2010 proved to be less than a remarkable event for Eagle Rock retailers. Last year on the same Small Business Saturday weekend, stores such as , and Amazon Drops—the latter has since relocated to Pasadena—reported disappointing, slow sales despite the fact that each retailer had offered significant discounts. This year, Kumquat was packed with customers.
What brought the crowds out this year? Unity, for one. Eagle Rock Boulevard retailers banded together, agreeing to stay open until 9 p.m., spreading word of mouth, creating a party-like atmosphere, and bringing the street back to life. What’s more, the office of announced the event in its weekly "Northeast Community Newsletter" email blast, as did Eagle Rock Patch and the Eastsider LA blog.
“People came from all over,” said Toros Tngrian, owner of Toros Pottery. “I got a lot of new customers today and many said to me, ‘I’ve driven by so many times and always wondered what your store was. Now I know.’”
Eagle Rock’s Unofficial Pizza King Boosts Block Party
Michael Gerard, the chef-owner of , lent his support for his neighboring boutiques by hosting a lounge where shoppers could idle on his atmospheric, palm-lined patio, feasting on gourmet pizzas fired up in his wood-burning oven. Gerard offered artisan beers from Eagle Rock Brewery and an assortment of red and white wines as well.
Once stores closed, many of their owners joined Gerard for an after-party celebration and conducted a happy postmortem of the day’s success. Having struggled through many disappointing holiday seasons for the past few years, the boulevard’s retailers were clearly buoyed by the Block Party’s obvious triumph.
Lin, who worked a long day and pulled in one of her biggest sales tallies ever, looked satisfied, if a bit tired. “We need to do this next year for sure,” she said.