Bat­tling a gro­cery to save a news­stand

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - STEVE LOPEZ

Not that long ago you didn’t have to travel far to find a well-stocked news­stand in greater Los Angeles. I’m talk­ing about those fab­u­lous out­door li­braries with knee-deep piles of out-oftown news­pa­pers and neatly ar­ranged rows of mag­a­zines call­ing out to any­one hun­gry for gos­sip, his­tory, cul­ture.

The half-block-long buf­fets were neigh­bor­hood land­marks and meet­ing places, im­pos­si­ble to walk past with­out paus­ing over a head­line or a cap­ti­vat­ing photo. But they’ve been dy­ing off for years, thanks to on­line con­tent and other chal­lenges.

It’s about to hap­pen again. This time in Brent­wood. Or maybe not. More than 900 cus­tomers have signed a pe­ti­tion to save the news­stand that’s been or­dered to vacate the Whole Foods park­ing lot on San Vi­cente Boule­vard in the heart of the hamlet. Another pe­ti­tion has drawn roughly 500 sig­na­tures at change.org.

The ra­bid de­fend­ers range from peo­ple you’ve never heard of to big-name celebs.

“C’MON!,” wrote ac­tor Luke Wil­son, who signed the pe­ti­tion.

A save-the-stand Face­book page fea­tures a video of teen ac­tor David Ma­zouz pe­rus­ing a magazine.

“I’m here at my fa­vorite news­stand,” says Ma­zouz, of the “Gotham” TV se­ries, “and there aren’t a lot of places like this any­more. And I hear this one’s go­ing away. Sad.”

And it isn’t just Brent­wood that’s in dan­ger of los­ing a lit­tle piece of its soul. Here’s the ques­tion: How much are we sac­ri­fic­ing as In­ter­net shop­ping kills off malls and emp­ties once-bustling main streets, and dig­i­tal de­vices be­come the only way we read, rob­bing us of chance en­coun­ters and serendip­i­tous dis­cov­er­ies?

I used to work near Brent­wood and can re­call the sim­ple plea­sure of check­ing out the new ar­rivals at Dut­ton’s Books and then pick­ing up a news­pa­per at the nearby news­stand. Dut­ton’s, a beloved

in­sti­tu­tion, shut its doors in 2008, and the death of the news­stand nine years later would be a dou­ble blow to neigh­bor­hood his­tory, char­ac­ter and sense of place.

Owner Marck Sarfati, who has run the stand for 28 years, said Henry Win­kler is a sup­porter and Dustin Hoff­man signed the pe­ti­tion last week.

“He wrote ‘WHY’ in big let­ters, with a ques­tion mark af­ter it,” Sarfati said of Hoff­man. Why, in­deed? The of­fi­cial an­swer from Whole Foods was served up half-baked, drier than a toasted kale chip and nu­tri­tion-free.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate the long­stand­ing re­la­tion­ship Mr. Sarfati has had with the Brent­wood store and we did not make this de­ci­sion lightly.” And? And that’s it. That’s all the cor­po­rate flack was will­ing to say on the record.

More use­ful in­for­ma­tion could be found in the let­ter Sarfati re­ceived March 27 and hung at the news­stand for cus­tomers to see. It’s from the Whole Foods “Real Es­tate As­set Man­ager,” in re­sponse to Sarfati’s re­quest for a lease re­newal.

“We have se­ri­ously con­sid­ered your re­quest … and un­for­tu­nately it was con­cluded that it is time to make some changes at the store and with the park­ing sit­u­a­tion. There­fore, your lease will ex­pire per its terms on Septem­ber 30, 2017. Again, thank you for your part­ner­ship and we sin­cerely wish you the best of luck go­ing for­ward.”

But Sarfati isn’t ready to sur­ren­der.

Born in Greece, he looks af­ter a fa­ther — now in his 90s — who sur­vived a Nazi la­bor camp in Greece and came to the U.S. more than half a cen­tury ago. Sarfati got into the news­stand busi­ness in 1983 and once had five of them.

Greater Los Angeles had about 60 news­stands back then, said Sarfati, who es­ti­mates that only 15 or 20 re­main. He still has one at Pico and Robert­son boule­vards in ad­di­tion to the Brent­wood site, which he has op­er­ated since be­fore Whole Foods took over 20 years ago from another gro­cer.

The prob­lem isn’t just ris­ing rents and on­line read­ing, said Sarfati, but mag­a­zines are prac­ti­cally given away through dis­counted sub­scrip­tion of­fers, so peo­ple are less in­clined to fork over eight or nine bucks for a sin­gle copy.

But Sarfati ar­gues that the setup in Brent­wood has been a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship. You pick up a news­pa­per and you buy a dozen eggs, or vice versa.

Maybe he can find another lo­ca­tion, he told me, but he’s not go­ing any­where with­out a fight.

“Th­ese peo­ple are not just sign­ing a pe­ti­tion to keep the news­stand open,” he said of his sup­port­ers. “It says that if we’re forced to close, they will not pa­tron­ize Whole Foods.”

Hard to say whether that will work. Whole Foods is slump­ing fi­nan­cially and shak­ing up its lead­er­ship, but it’s still an ad­dic­tion for some peo­ple. You have to won­der if cer­tain Brent­wood­ers would be lost if, af­ter a Pilates work­out, they didn’t have un­fet­tered ac­cess to co­conut wa­ter, hemp hearts and chia pud­ding.

“I’ll go to another Whole Foods,” said Linda Gar­bett, a long­time news­stand cus­tomer and Whole Foods shop­per.

Prena Kun­nath, who’s been work­ing the news­stand reg­is­ter for 14 years and sup­ports a wife and two kids, handed Gar­bett the pe­ti­tion.

“I’m gonna sign it a hun­dred times,” said Gar­bett. “You can browse here, the guys are great, this is where you meet peo­ple. It’s a lovely thing. I don’t wanna go on­line, it’s too flat. This is 3-D.”

Leonard Frank, a long­time cus­tomer and for­mer city plan­ner, said he’s ready to walk a picket line if it comes to that. He said he doubts many more park­ing spa­ces can be squeezed into the lot, so he’d rather keep the news­stand.

“It’s an in­te­gral part of the Brent­wood com­mu­nity,” he said. “I don’t think Whole Foods un­der­stands the com­mu­nity.”

Shauna Sorensen bought a copy of BBC His­tory magazine and won­dered where she’d go for ob­scure ti­tles if Sarfati is run out.

“I’m in­ter­ested in the Bri­tish Reformation,” said the re­tired book edi­tor, who also picks up an ar­chae­ol­ogy magazine on oc­ca­sion. “It’s very alarm­ing for those of us who like books and pa­per and want to sup­port the peo­ple who write the ar­ti­cles.”

Ocean breezes or not, my fore­cast calls for a long, hot sum­mer in Brent­wood.

I’ll keep you posted.

Glenn Koenig Los Angeles Times

MARCK SARFATI is the owner of a pop­u­lar Brent­wood news­stand that’s been or­dered to vacate the Whole Foods park­ing lot on San Vi­cente Boule­vard.

Glenn Koenig Los Angeles Times

A SE­LEC­TION of mag­a­zines at the stand. “It’s an in­te­gral part of the Brent­wood com­mu­nity,” said Leonard Frank, a long­time cus­tomer of the stand. “I don’t think Whole Foods un­der­stands the com­mu­nity.”

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