By Melanie Camp
After more than half a century in Venice, Allan’s Aquarium, at 845 Lincoln Blvd., is moving on. Owners Allan and Marina have sold the building and are gifting the business to their current store managers who will be relocating to Pico Boulevard, near Bundy, in West L.A.
While the real estate deal was brokered in just a few weeks, the decision to sell was one that Allan and his wife Marina had labored over for years.
Originally from Santa Monica, Allan met Marina, who was born and raised in Venice, at one of the first Allan’s Aquariums. The business started in 1963 on Pacific Avenue. Allan was fixing cars and had a couple of aquariums in his garage. Deciding to focus on fish, he moved into a space on Lincoln Boulevard, but, “they didn’t allow animals in the building. So he moved into the building that is now Manny’s bicycle shop,” says Marina. It was here that fate would work her magic and Marina would first meet Allan. “I thought he was just working there. I went to the store looking for baby turtles,” says Marina. She left with a whole lot more, it was love. Although, Marina will be the first say it wasn’t quite happily ever after.
“Nobody is walking around with a perfect relationship. I always tell my kids that. You don’t know what is going on underneath in people’s lives,” says Marina. Once married, Marina and Allan moved Allan’s Aquarium to its current location. Here the business thrived for 47 years, all while the couple, and their five children, weathered the storms, earthquakes, and health scares – even choosing to keep the doors open throughout the Los Angeles Riots. Marina says people were grateful they were still able get pet food during this time, “We were protected because the store was so loved by the neighbors.”
In the 1980s the windows of Allan’s Aquarium did have bullet-proof glass though. Not because the store, that sits on the corner of Lincoln Boulevard and Brooks Avenue was a target, it was more protection from stray bullets. “There used to be random bullet holes every now and then,” says Drew Creed one of the managers, and soon to be the new owner, at Allan’s Aquarium.
Creed has worked at Allan’s for close to 15 years, “Right outta Venice High School,” he says. Although, he almost didn’t get the job.
“My name is Andrew and when I applied for the job Allan told me he couldn’t hire me because his son’s name is Andrew and that it’d be too confusing to have two people named Andrew. He said, ‘unfortunately I can’t hire you.’ So basically I just said, ‘Well, can’t you just call me Drew?’ and he goes, ‘OK, we’ll just do that then’ and he hired me.”
As a kid growing up in Venice, Creed remembers not being allowed to venture into the Oak- wood area. The section of Venice behind Allan’s Aquarium, west of Lincoln, and east of Abbot Kinney Boulevard. “It was all like, gang area…but it’s changed a lot now. Million dollar houses left and right…,” he says.
Creed remembers the time someone was shot and killed just across the street from the store, “…about 12-13 years ago. There used to be a bus stop. Actually, Allan’s son was here at the time and he went over and tried to give the man CPR because he was like an EMT, he was in the National Guard. It didn’t happen though. It didn’t work.”
After the Los Angeles riots came the Northridge Earthquake, and Allan and Marina, who had pretty much lived in Venice their entire lives, upped and moved the family onto a boat in Marina del Rey. “I totally freaked out,” says Marina who at the time, with a new born baby daughter, felt safer living off land and out of a house.
After spending the first five years of her life on a boat, Marina says their youngest, Mariah, was more familiar with boat terms than house terms. “She’d refer to a basement as a lazarette.” Mariah, now studying marine biology, is the only one of Allan and Marina’s five children who ended up gravitating towards anything close to the family business. “The Aquarium was Allan’s thing,” says Marina. However, the entire family still spent most of their time in the shop. “The kids all had their own dog beds to lay on when they were babies…I would bring our meals here to eat.”
Leaving so many memories and so much neighborhood love behind was no easy decision for Allan and Marina to make. “It’s a numbing feeling. We keep asking, ‘is it the right thing?’ But we need to prepare for the time ahead,” says Marina.
Having fought and won a battle against leukemia 13 years ago, Allan was left with the aftermath; a body weakened by chemotherapy. “We got through it but a few years ago Allan was diagnosed with short-term memory loss,” says Marina. So began the heart-wrenching process of deciding what to do with the building and business it housed.
Word is director Jon Favreau has bought the building for $5.25 million. While Marina would not officially confirm or deny she said that the new owner has plans to keep the building as is on the outside, even asking to keep the signs. “The neon signs are grandfathered in. As long as the building remains the signs can stay but otherwise you can’t have neon in Venice anymore,” says Marina. “It’s comforting knowing that the building will remain and comforting knowing the name will continue.”
It was for Allan and Marina to make a move before it was too late.
“Allan has good days and sometimes bad days. Not everyone sees it but the family has noticed the change. It’s been very difficult. No one continues on the same path. There’s always a bump in the road. Hopefully it’s smooth again soon,” says Marina.
“It kind of happened faster than we thought it would,” Creed says, most of the staff figured it might take a year or more for the building to sell. “We had a lot of people coming in and checking it out. You know, shady like. Looking in and not saying they were looking but we could tell because they were not normal customers. Doing things like asking how many square feet the building was. Normal customers don’t ask that.”
Creed says while Allan and Marina didn’t want to sell they needed “to get ready and prepare for what may or may not happen in the future. They can’t be having a business where they have to worry about us and take care of us.”
Another reason Allan and Marina wanted to get out now was so they would be able to help the staff with the transition from morphing from managers to owners.
“They’re trying to take care of us the best they can,” says Creed. “They’re helping out tremendously. The physical labor, that’s all on us but as far as logistics and taking us to meet the bankers and doing stuff that we’re not usually doing, they’re helping out. We’d rather it didn’t happen and we could stay here because we’ve all got our little routine and stuff but it’s better than the unemployment line.”
Creed says Marina and Allan built up a great loyalty. “Any of the employees here, most of us don’t have father figures or parents in general, so they’ve always had that role. It’s always those kids that don’t have good role models or father figures that come in here and they just kinda stay for years and years. We have a very low turnover with employees. The average employee is here for 10-15 years,” says Creed.
Depending on how long it takes to clear out the store Creed predicts they could be in the new space as soon as the next two weeks. Any fish, snakes, lizards, fuzzies (aka live baby mice) left will travel over to the new store, bringing a bit of OG Venice to greater Los Angeles, “we’re not going to flush anything,” jokes Creed. An original sign that had been taken down about five years ago, and Allan and Marina had held onto, will also make the move. As will the Allan’s Aquarium name.
“We’re moving. Not Closing. We’re hoping that will be less jarring. Closing is too permanent. Our employees are part of the family and we wanted to gift them the business,” says Marina.
Creed says he’s beginning to realize how much people, including himself, take for granted the stress that comes with being the boss, “It’s a lot of responsibly. You’re responsible for making sure these guys get a pay check every week. So it’s like, ‘oh crap’ now I gotta make sure it works. Before I could goof off and do whatever I want. Now I can’t do that.”
The move is an all too familiar story in Venice. Like Roosterfish, Hal’s, and Joe’s Restaurant before, Allan’s Aquarium now joins the list of OG’s who are either packing up and shipping out, or closing their doors completely. “Venice isn’t what it used to be. Venice is way different,” says Creed.
The biggest change he’s noticed in Venice are the businesses, “all the old school businesses are gone, or they can’t compete and there are all these new fads coming in. It’s just not the same. You go up and down, a lot of the places are empty or they’ve got these weird hat stores or weird coffee shops. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just not what Venice was.”
Winston Cenac, is a broker and the owner of Bulldog Realtors, Inc. He says, “the $5.25 million price seems about right. I think most architects will agree the building has great mid-century bones. Last year, the Witzend building sold for 5 million and is about the same size on a corner, although better developed. Obviously none of this is about the price per foot. It’s about location and the belief that Lincoln Boulevard has a very hip future.”
Another Venice realtor, Tami Pardee of Halton Pardee + Partners, says she believes the sale of the 4,700-square-foot store and it’s adjacent residential home on Brooks Avenue., “was a fair deal considering the Venice market.”
Pardee says overall Lincoln Avenue “is becoming more desirable and this is opening up the east side of Venice. There used to be such a gap between east and west.” The real estate market aside, Pardee says the pet store has a special place in her heart, “I did love Allan’s Aquarium. I bought a lot of fish over the years there for the kids.”
The business has built up a loyal following including some high profile customers. “JJ Abrahams bought a Beta from here,” says Roy Cheyne, another manager and long-time Allan’s employee. Cheyne is a favorite of regular Hillary Swank.
“One time she came in and I was busy with another customer and she was just waiting for help. Allan was standing there and asked her, ‘hey, do you need help with something?’ and she’s like ‘no, I’m waiting for Roy…Roy’s the best, I’ll wait for him.’”
Naomi Hasan has shopped at Allan’s for 10 years, “since Peaches the parrot was here,” after she inherited a corn snake. “It was donated. Used to work for a science center.” Hasan calls Creed “The Doctor” because “he knows everything. All the advice and tips. If I question it, I always pay for it ‘cos he’s always right.”
Hasan comes to Allan’s to get fuzzies for her corn snake, “she has to eat organic as per the Doctor says,” she nods towards Creed. “If we don’t bag ‘em right, they escape on the bus,” says Creed. “Then I have to find a new route for a while until they forget who I am. It only happened once. Don’t worry,” says Hasan. She says Creed used to box the fuzzies in Chinese takeout containers. “What did we used to call it?” she asked him, “Shrimp fried mice,” he says.
As Creed walks Hasan to the door she tells him, “I’m going to walk solemnly to the bus stop knowing that this place will be no longer…but there are bus routes everywhere. I’ll find you!”
Marina says she and Allan will also be regular visitors to the new store. “We’ll still be around. Our faces will still be there. They’re an extension of our family.
Creed and Cheyne hope the rest of Venice follow the business to their new location, “we’re hoping all of the original customers will come, plus more. It’s more centrally located in LA so we’ll get more of an access to more people. Not just the Venice crowd,” says Creed.
One things for sure, it seems it will be more than just the Allan’s Aquarium name that Creed and Cheyne will take with. The feeling is they’re continuing the family business and with that they’ll no doubt bring a little Venice oasis to 12003 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.