In the 1990’s, Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles blew up because of Aaron Spelling’s hit “Melrose Place.” But what makes Melrose truly Melrose is beyond any television show. Melrose is a feeling. The store owners and businesses that make up the Melrose community know that it’s a feeling, they’ve got it, and they know it’s something that people want. But the feeling has been losing its “feels” since looters hit the tight, cool community of entrepreneurs last May – and locals say it’s changing for the worst. For some of the old school fashionistas, around since the 90’s, the predominance of trendy snack shops and sneaker stores (like the wildly popular Happy Ice & Zero’s) are encroaching on the block like ivy. Ivy isn’t bad – it just isn’t meant to be the poinsettia.
And poinsettias are worth something in a world where sweatshop made sneakers sell for upwards of $250 yet only cost $27.50 per pair for Chinese factory labor and overhead costs. SB1399 in Los Angeles was aimed at the poinsettias – pressuring big-name, high-cost fashion companies to standardize wages and safety for employees of the garment manufacturing industry in California. California holds the largest concentration of garment workers in the United States – and downtown Los Angeles is the center of it. The attempt to bring the largest reform on the fashion industry in recent history failed to come up for a vote in the final hours of this year’s legislative session. It is unknown whether the bill’s sponsor, Maria Elena Durazo, will re-introduce the bill, focused on ending wage theft and other violations, in the next legislative session. Employers would have been required to pay an hourly wage without avoiding minimum wage rates through the “piece rate” loophole which pays laborers for every hem, seam, and cuff they sew.
One beautiful orchid on the block is Cosmo’s Glam Squad – which has been on two different locations on Melrose for twenty-two years. Couture fashion that’s a Burning Man must-top each year, shoppers at Glam include world-famous celebrities whose pictures hang in the back. Most of its inventory is hand-stitched, sewn, and designed by local artists and the price on the tag speaks to that. Now this store owner, Cosmo Lombino, like many, is dealing with unexpected realities in the year 2020 – including the need for increased digital sales. For instance, each year hundreds of people would pour into the store to pick up what they needed on the way to Black Rock City – this year? Burning Man got canceled. The store has seen an uptake in online sales of the same products people used to come in for – but the change is becoming more and more noticeable.
This is where social media marketing and eCommerce optimization come into play – and a lot of the really successful stores on Melrose don’t know much about it. Why would they need to? Melrose has been its own “new Rodeo drive” ecosystem with high-profile and high-spending shoppers since the turn of the century. But there isn’t a group of people who specifically help with social media management for Melrose. In the future, based on how retail is going, this will probably exist: PR, digital media support teams, content producers, and eCommerce platform consultants that serve entire communities of business owners in retail.
In the meantime, the Melrose Business Improvement District does what it can to maintain equilibrium – especially since attacks on stores have continued since May. The “Uplift Melrose” project recently applied to receive a $31.8 million state grant from Caltrans to fund the project. The project aims to make the street safer for pedestrians and bikers, bring more trees and green-life, and new lighting will also be included to make it feel a little less like Hollywood Blvd. and more like Larchmont Village.
The tension now lies in the waiting between the dark night of the looting and the new dawn of the Uplift Project. Property owners are lowering rents and doing whatever they can to help businesses hold on during the transition. Digital PR companies, which LA is full of, including 9th Wonder (on Melrose), ShapiroPR, and MVD Inc. are already providing packages and services to help meet these new needs. In the future, PR and digital services may be just as necessary as water, power, and internet utilities for small businesses to do more than just survive in their brick and mortar retail stores.
“We lost more money in these last two months than we have in a year,” Cosmo said looking forlorn. And then the eyes sparkled, “But we made more money in on-line sales this month than ever before. We just need to learn how to make the internet work for us.” Cosmo is not alone in struggling to cross the digital divide. Just like how store-owners who stayed on the block during the uprising kept other businesses from being burned down, neighboring entrepreneurs and digitally literate businesses should look at ways to help their neighbors which, in turn, will only help themselves.