June 25, 2024 #1 Local News, Forum, Information and Event Source for Venice Beach, California.

(Opinion) Abbot Kinney Street Vending Turns Ugly

Not All Mobile Vendors Operate as Good Neighbors, Says Barry Cassilly

By Barry Cassilly

Abbot Kinney might be the most successful small business district in the country. The street began as the commercial hub of locally owned mom and pop businesses, and has grown into a nationally recognized shopping district featuring an idiosyncratic collection of national brands while mom and pop businesses still anchor the street. Some of those local Venice brands have themselves gone on to establish national profiles such as Aviator Nation, Tom’s Shoes, A+R Furniture, Lighting and Decor and Linus Bikes.

No less a part of Abbot Kinney’s fun, eclectic culture is First Friday, a virtual street party where food trucks are invited to set up shop as retail operations on the street are closing down for the day. People from all over the city travel to Venice to take part in this festive end of the work week celebration. Abbot Kinney Association member Elisa James says that, “First Friday vendors are good neighbors and have become a part of our community.” Vendors trucks are all vetted for fire safety and their health department permits are checked on a monthly basis. Years ago, after a food truck burst into a ball of flames on a busy Friday night, the Association put into place rules that would insure the safety and well being of customers and store owners while maintaining the vibrant, mobile vending scene.

Unfortunately, I was told, not all mobile vendors operate as good neighbors, and the problems the bad actors are creating are becoming more prevalent to the point of threatening both the success of the street’s businesses and the culture of openness and conviviality that Abbot Kinney, and to some degree Venice, has become known for.

I toured the street this last weekend and was shown example after example where mobile vendors had set up shop selling clothing in front of brick and mortar clothing shops, and were vending food in front of small restaurants. One corporate owned truck was trying to expand it’s brand presence by giving out free packaged of their food items in front of an independent, locally owned restaurant. Red zone parking was common as was all day vending in free parking spaces with 2 hour limits obviously denying patrons of stores the opportunity to park near shops.

To be clear, none of these vendors are taco trucks or hand-push food cart vendors. One rogue vendor who is particularly egregious in operations on the street is JONES WRKWR, a slickly branded clothing and hip “workwear” company based in Malibu. Every weekend, they tow a shipping container fitted to a flatbed trailer onto the street on Friday evening and leave it there unattached, taking up several parking spaces all weekend. It’s painted all black except for the JONES logo. Most of the container opens to the sidewalk to reveal a highly designed clothing store that could easily be mistaken for a Madison Avenue corporate operation.

Another expertly painted vehicle belongs to The Lonely Barber. The owner apparently has gotten into loud confrontations with residents on the street and has posted a widely circulated Instagram video of himself screaming at one of the local traffic enforcement officers who had the tenacity to give him a ticket. Residents have become upset by the fact that he has a particularly loud generator and regularly runs it throughout the day while also taking advantage of the street’s generous free parking spaces in which he stays in all day ignoring the 2 hour limit.

Another truck selling herbal tinctures had an astoundingly loud generator. It was an old commercial Cummings engine generator one might expect to see in a factory downtown, but it was attached to the front of a trailer which had been towed to the location and remained attached to a truck taking up several parking spaces all day. A retail store was right across the sidewalk. I went inside and noticed the generator could be heard loudly at the back of the store. Employees engaging with customers were all having to raise their voices to be heard by someone standing right in front of them. The manager, who emphatically insisted I not mention their store or her name for fear of retribution, threw up her hands and rolled her eyes when I asked about the vending out front. “We can’t do anything. We’ve called everyone we can think of in the City and no one will help us.”

Indeed, there does seem to be some “confusion” on the part of city officials whose emails I was shown. Literally every vehicle involved in unsanctioned street vending was in violation of the overweight vehicle signs posted up and down the street, and none of them paid the least bit of attention to the reasonable 2 hour parking limit which is intended to maintain a balance between free parking and access to the street for as many people as possible. For as long as anyone can remember, this honor system of handling parking on the street has functioned smoothly. However, his new rogue class of vendors are clearly taking advantage of the neighborhoods generosity and rudely claiming public parking spaces as their own possession. It’s hard to see this as anything other than occupation, pure and simple.

Among the emails back and forth to city officials, one seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to the stores reaching out to the press. In the email, the city official cited state law SB 972 as the reason no local regulations could be enforced when it came to street vending. However, when store owners read through the law they quickly realized that it had nothing to do with the vending of services and merchandise they at the time complaining about. The city is telling us to go pound sand was how one merchant put it. In my own reading of SB 972, it was abundantly obvious that the law only deals with the selling of food. LA municipal code also makes a clear distinction between food vending and the selling of merchandise and Services.

Then, as if to punctuate my visit, as I was returning to my bike with one of the Abbot Kinney merchants, a clothing street vendor crossed the street to intercept us. He immediately started yelling at the merchant because he had seen the him take a photo of a street vendor down the block. Cursing, he demanded to be handed the camera and said that that was the last photo that the camera would ever take. When the merchant tried to walk away, the vendor grabbed at the back of his shirt, then shoved the store owner and grabbed his bag spinning him around and knocking off his glasses. The store owner pulled his bag back away from the vendor and began backing up, swinging his bag around to fight off the vendor. When it seemed everything was about to come to blows, I shoved the merchant into a store and we shut the doors holding them closed with our feet while the street vendor tried to force them open. Eventually, he gave up and I called 911. When police arrived a report for battery and theft was filed.

I went home. Merchants I talked to all stressed that they are supportive of street vending as long as people can be neighborly. Merchants even talked about possibly arranging for special permits to, with reasonable conditions, provide exemptions from vehicle restrictions on the street. But they also pointed out that they are have made a commitment to investing in the Venice community. They pay rent, a lot of it. They pay taxes, also a lot of them, taxes which fund community oriented projects like low income housing construction and homeless services, and they pay the salaries of everyone working on Abbot Kinney. They want mobile vendors in the community who also will make a commitment to the community and agree to a working relationship that does not come at the expense of the businesses which make Abbot Kinney, Abbot Kinney. What they absolutely do not want is what happened to the locally owned Nice Cream store which used to be on Abbot Kinney.

A while back a street vendor set up shop on a regular basis selling ice cream right in front of the Nice Cream shop. The vending truck was owner by a Brooklyn ice cream company looking to expand their brand into the California market. When the Nice Cream owner complained about the Brooklyn company operating in direct competition to his store, the company from Brooklyn had their customers and friends in New York flood every available social media site with bad reviews of Nice Cream. Today the Brooklyn company has successfully transitioned into a national brand. Nice Cream on Abbot Kinney is out of business.

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