Shopping local in Leimert 

Though many of us have heard that it is best to shop local and recycle those Black dollars, that may be made even easier with today’s gas prices soaring and the pandemic raging. This ‘Black Friday’ (so named because many retailers see their first hearty sales after Thanksgiving—putting them ‘in the black’) may offer the best opportunity to stay close to home. 

There are many websites that steer Christmas and Kwanzaa shoppers to local fare. The Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce, which has been empowering business and promoting commerce since 1933, has a number of local listings at https://www.crenshawchamber.com/directory. 

The L.A. South Chamber of Commerce will launch its #ShopSmall, #ShopConscious, #ShopSouthLA Campaign  with promotional events at seven local small businesses throughout the weekend. At each stop, there will be free giveaways, discounts and more. For a complete schedule of stops, visit www.LASouthChamber.com.

“At a time when many small businesses are still struggling to recover losses from the pandemic, this is an opportunity to give them a boost and remind folks to avoid the mall and shop small,” stated Dexter McLeod, chamber president.  “Many of our businesses didn’t survive the last 20 months, so being a conscious consumer is more important now than ever if we want to help our remaining businesses to stay afloat and thrive.” 

Recycling Black Dollars, a non-profit corporation that is celebrating 33 years in the community, has listings at https://rbdgreaterlabbr.com/. Additionally, Metro supports local businesses as they build the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project. Visit https://www.metro.net/about/eat-shop-play/#crenshaw.

Metro gathered a panel of nationally recognized curators and local arts professionals, including community members from the Crenshaw/LAX corridor and selected fourteen artists to create site-specific, integrated artworks for the Crenshaw/LAX project. This includes the station at Leimert Park.

LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)

Metro began constructing the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project in 2014. The company is not forecasting the opening date of the rail project as mid -2022. Although Leimert Park is known as one of the city’s most prized, historic neighborhoods, there was actually a huge community fight to make sure that the new Metro rail station was placed at the cultural nexus of Black Los Angeles. 

Artwork for the Leimert station is completed. Artist Mickalene Thomas’ mosaic was inspired by the quality of light, cultural richness and iconic structures in the surrounding Leimert Park neighborhood. Before translating the work into a mosaic, the artist used painting and photocollage techniques to create the layered composition, which integrates many of the natural and architectural elements characterizing the community. The Leimert Park fountain, Vision Theatre, and Japanese-inspired home garden designs are among the featured motifs.

“The artwork makes a sweep across the Los Angeles Basin, from the Pacific to the mountains, interweaving textile swatches, architectural patterns and images and silhouettes that pay tribute to the bustling energy and distinct character of the neighborhood and city,” Thomas said.

The Leimert Park website (http://www.leimertparkvillage.org), lists the dining and shopping spots in that area. The locale is known for its celebration of the historical and contemporary contributions of Black LA with Sunday drumming, frequent book fairs, art walks, museum exhibits, concerts and other vibrant cultural events taking place throughout the year.

Referring to the local area’s gentrification, James Burkes, the creator of the African Marketplace, once said, “We may not be able to stop the moving vans coming in, but we can certainly solidify the permanence of this Black cultural space. Move on in, but the cultural background of Leimert Park, etc. will meet and greet you, and will force you to adapt yourself to it.”

Shopping in Leimert

Around the corner from the Metro stop, shoppers can visit an assortment of shops. One of the highlights is EsoWon Bookstore, which has been a mainstay at 4327 Degnan Ave. since 1987. Although the store has had to curtail its speaker forums; ditch book signing events and shorten its hours (now open from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays), co-owner James Fugate is looking forward to the upcoming season.

“The bigger day for us will be Saturday,” he said. “It’s Small Business Saturday and American Express will be doing a commercial featuring us.”

The store features an array of Afrocentric children’s books, new and old adult reading fare, greeting cards, calendars, bookmarks and music CDs. Readers and buyers can enjoy the sounds of jazz wafting among the tables full of tomes and bouncing off bookcases stacked along the walls. 

The bookstore takes orders online at https://www.esowonbookstore.com, with UPS shipping to the buyer’s home. Even so, Fugate admits that sales have taken a hit during the pandemic. 

“I think a lot of older people are still being cautious,” he said, noting that things in American society– from shopping to writers and their book themes — may never be the same. “After a president like Trump, there’s no going back to normal.” 

Just down the street at 4319 is the Ride On! bike shop, which boasts on its site that they “proudly serve all types of cyclists, including new and veteran riders, road and mountain aficionados, and recreation and transportation cyclists.”

Owner Ade’ E. Neff’s store features premium bicycles, gear, and apparel. He also offers bike rentals and repair services.   

“We’re offering freebie bike repairs for people in the CicLAvia event,” Neff said. CicLAvia-South LA will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 5. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard will be closed from Central Avenue to Crenshaw Boulevard. From there, the route turns north and ends at Exposition Boulevard. (See story on page 6)

The event hopes to encourage walkers, skateboarders and bikers outdoors, something Neff does every day. 

“We need it. It’s a good way to stay healthy,” he said. 

“We’ll have a tent on MLK,” Neff added, noting that along with free bike services, store logo-emblazoned merchandise will be for sale that day. 

Like many merchants, Neff’s business has cut back hours during the pandemic. Additionally, the supply chain issues have put a dent in his marketing efforts.

 “It’s been rough,” he said. “I Had to sell my rentals during covid, and supply chain issues haven’t replaced that inventory.”

Ride On! does more than bike sales. It’s a worker-owned coop which Neff opened in 2017. He leads his co-op partners in conducting bike repair education, repair services and workshops on bike safety (e.g. sizing your bike so the seat is the correct level; fitting your helmet properly; and how to develop certain bike skills). 

Ride On! is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from noon to 7 p.m. Visit www.rideonbikeshop.com or call (323) 903-5043 for additional information.

Further down the street at 4339 Degnan Blvd., Queen Aminah’s Cultural Clothing is open to provide designer fashions for men, women and children the African, Regal Dubai, Middle East or that Jalilah classic Islamic design outfit needed for that special Kwanzaa, New Year, or Black History Month celebration. They also have jewelry, accessories, and hats — mostly from West Africa. The store also boasts one of the largest collections of antique African sculptures and masks.

“We’ve been there since 2009,” Aminah Muhammad said of her family-owned business. Prior to that, the shop was in Inglewood and then had a spot in the Crenshaw Baldwin Hills Plaza’s African Marketplace before it closed.  

Since then, Muhammad has become the president of the Leimert Park Merchants Association. She feels that the area is the “soul of Los Angeles.”

“I love Leimert Park,” she said.  “The merchants are coming together in unity. For years we dealt with the Metro interruption, which affected all of our businesses. It’s been an uphill battle.” 

Muhammad welcomes Black Friday shoppers and said that recycling the dollars with area businesses enhances the community in many ways that shopping in other areas of the city just wouldn’t do.

 “Exchange your dollars with Black people instead,” she said. “Money goes from consumers to Black merchants and then we give back.”

Over the weekend, Muhammad hosted a food giveaway. A little event they do for the community four or more times each year where some area homeless and jobless find nutritional help.

“The food we give them is wholesome food and we give them plenty of food,” Muhammad said. “It isn’t just about money. I am a community activist. I am a member of the community of Islam and we’ve been trained to give back to the commmunty.”

Muhammad is planning a Black Los Angeles modest fashion week in February next year to showcase her designs and demonstrate that women can cover up, look professional and dress for respect. To schedule an appointment, call (323) 873-7885 and visit the website at queenaminahclothing@yahoo.com. Store hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

“At the end of the day, its God, its family, its community,” she said.

After all that Black Friday walking, browsing and buying, shoppers in Leimert Park have a variety of establishments to choose from to satisfy their hunger and thirst. Harun Coffee and Gallery, at 4336 Degnan Blvd.; the Hot and Cool Cafe at 4331 Degnan Blvd., which boasts “The best vegan bar food in LA;” and Ackee Bamboo Cafe and Adassa’s Cafe at 4305 Degnan Blvd., which has featured Caribbean and Jamaican cuisine since 2004.

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