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AFTER THE RIOTS : A DREAM UP IN SMOKE

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In the rage that followed the verdicts in the Rodney G. King beating trial April 29, many of the city’s buildings went up in flames.

One small piece of the destruction was along South Vermont’s 8500 block at Manchester Boulevard. Every store on the east side of the street was gutted that night, beginning with the torching of a Korean-American-owned swap meet. The blaze, which began about 8 p.m., wiped out 42 businesses and about 120 jobs in a few hours. Korean-American shop owners, working late, were alerted by those in other neighborhoods that the rioting was coming. But other business owners and tenants--white, black, Vietnamese-American and Chinese-American--had gone home for the night before the fire started. Business owners say firefighters never responded to the blaze; the department says it went out to the scene to fight the fire “a number of times.”

History: The block, built in the 1930s, was considered the premier shopping district in Southwest Los Angeles, with Charlston’s Department Store, J.J. Newberry Co., M & V Market and F.W. Woolworth Co. Originally owned and operated mostly by Irish immigrants, the block was Jewish-owned in the 1940s and today the building ownership is divided among Korean-Americans, Chinese-Americans, an Israeli and descendants of Dr. Joe Farrell, son of an Irish immigrant.

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Description: The block before the riots was rich with diversity as well as merchandise: two Korean-owned swap meets; a black-owned discount store, Bible shop, and shoe store; a white-owned dental office and auto insurance business; a Vietnamese-owned clothing store; and two venerable chains, Payless Shoesource, based in Topeka, Kan., and National Dollar Store Ltd., a Chinese-American business based in San Francisco.

1. Sir Tony’s Discount Store, 8500-8502 S. Vermont Ave.

Merchandise: Clothing, perfume, radios, Walkmans, telephones.

Financial status: Took in about $13,800 a month with a profit of about $5,200. Payroll was $6,000 a month for five employees. Building owner has insurance.

Owner: Joseph Sasson, Israeli-born businessman. Older brother Eli owns Sassony Enterprise Cos., with numerous properties in Los Angeles.

Tenant: Tony Love, 31-year-old ex-convict who started the business with $200.

Employees: Five, some paid straight salary and some paid salary plus commission.

Other stores: Store at 57th and Vermont, which sells similar merchandise.

Plans: Tenant and owner want to rebuild.

Quote: Tony Love: “My business was there to compete with the Koreans and to show other young black people that they could do it. I kept the prices low, even though the other Koreans on the block teamed up against me.”

2. A1 Beepers, 8504 S. Vermont.

Merchandise: Electronic pagers and beepers.

Financial status: Open less than three months. Owner has insurance for building.

Building owner: Joseph Sasson.

Tenant: Marcello Prata.

3. Collins’ Shoe Closet, 8506 S. Vermont.

Merchandise: Shoes for women and children, handbags, hats and gloves.

Financial status: Revenue of $100,000 to $150,000 annually in recent years, with profit of $10,000 to $20,000 a year. Store owner values business at $70,000. Insurance likely to cover about $50,000.

Owner: Joseph Sasson.

Tenants: Aaron and Theresa collins, for five years. The store was located down the block for 15 years before that.

Employees: Three. Albert, 61, Theresa, 65, and Theresa’s son, Donnie Johnson, 50. Johnson is paid about $200 a week.

Plans: Relocation.

Quote: Aaron Collins, who is black: “After 20 years, how would you feel if your life had gone up in ashes? I started with a nickel and a nail in 1969 and have been on that block since 1973. I don’t know who to blame for it. The blacks are fed up with the treatment they get from the Koreans and I got caught up in the rift.”

4. ABC Swap Meet, 8508-8510 S. Vermont Ave.

Financial status: Receives $7,000 to $10,000 a month in rent. its 12 tenants had each made $10,000 to $20,000 per month in sales. Owner spends $2,500 a month for security and $1,000 a month for electricity. He values swap meet at $25,000. Building owner has insurance.

Owner: Kee Sung Hwang, 43, from Seoul, South Korea. He and his wife, Betty, came to Los Angeles in 1977. Hwang studied nights at California International University and worked days at a clothing store to make enough money to open the swap meet. Bought property from Thrifty Co. in 1980.

Tenants: Sellers of clothing, tennis shoes, dress shoes, jewelry, lingerie, cosmetics, toys and T-shirts.

Employees: About 20, all Korean-American.

Plans: Undecided.

Quote: Kee Sung Hwang: “My son is watching TV and he calls me. ‘Daddy, the ABC Swap is burning on TV.’ I call 911 about 20 or 30 times. Nobody ever answered the phone. Daryl Gates? He attends a dinner party in Beverly Hills. First thing we learn in the United States is that we have obligation to pay tax. That means the government must protect our rights and assets.”

5. Royal Burger, 8512 S. Vermont.

Merchandise: Hamburgers, fast food.

Building owners: James and Namhee Lee, born in Korea. Purchased building in 1978, have insurance.

Plans: Undecided

6. Town Swap Meet, 8514-8518 S. Vermont.

Merchandise: Electronics, beauty supplies, handbags, hats, gloves and clothing, sold in 19 booths.

Financial status: Has insurance.

Owners: The Lees. Bought building in 1988, have insurance.

Tenant: Assorted businesses, all Korean-American run.

Employees: About 40.

Plans: Owner hopes to rebuild.

Quote: James Lee: “I was in South Korea visiting my mother. She is 83 years old and sick. My wife called and said they are burning the store. At that moment, I turned on the TV and saw it. My store was on TV. I didn’t feel anything. It’s just a shock.”

7. National Dollar Stores, 8522-24 S. Vermont.

Merchandise: Low-cost clothing, baby clothes, toys. Lot previously owned by Woolworth’s.

Financial status: Has insurance.

Owner and tenant: National Dollar Stores Ltd., , a Chinese-American family-owned business based in San Francisco and founded by Joe Shoong in 1903.

Employees: 15 to 20.

Plans: Wants to rebuild.

Other locations: 37 in California, Arizona, Hawaii and Texas. Sixteen locations in Los Angeles, many of which were damaged by fire or looters.

Quote: Corporate secretary Lincoln Yee: “We have good operations in Los Angeles. We like to serve the community and cater to the working class. We have three generations of customers buying there. We want to continue serving our loyal customers with good quality merchandise.”

8. Thrifty Baby Department, 8526 S. Vermont.

Merchandise: Baby clothes, toys and accessories.

Financial status: Has insurance. Tenant paid $2,160 a month in rent.

Building Owner: Kee Sung Hwang.

Tenant: Sam Kim.

Employees: Kim and his wife also operate the business.

9. D’s Cards, Bibles and Gospel Music, 8528 S. Vermont.

Merchandise: Bibles and gospel music recordings.

Financial status: Has a small amount of insurance, not enough to cover damage.

Owner: A group of six, headed by Marianne Heydorff and her brother-in-law, Victor Illig. Heydorff’s father, Dr. Joe Farrell, built the building. Farrell’s father, Sam, was an Irish immigrant who came to Los Angeles through Canada.

Tenant: Doll Daniels, an RTD bus driver who bought the business for $3,200 three years ago.

Plans: Undecided.

Quote: Doll Daniels: “As many Bibles as I had in that store, if someone had stopped to pick up just one, maybe they would have stopped. But these people had no God in them. There’s a whole lot of headaches and misery, and people got hurt and died. And for what? I wish someone would preach a sermon on what happened, because I would like to know.”

10. King Solomon Grand Lodge, 8530 S. Vermont

Tenant: Rented by King Solomon Grand Lodge, a Masonic organization.

Financial status: Owner has insurance.

Owner: Heydorff-Illig group.

Plans: Undecided.

Quote: Jesse Bowman: “Until they get what caused the cancer, it’s going to continue. If you don’t stop the cancer, it will flare up again.”

11. Fashion Boutique, 8532 S. Vermont.

Merchandise: Clothing.

Financial status: Has insurance.

Owner: Heydorff-Illig group.

Tenants: Baek Yong Chong and his wife, In Suk Chong, since 1988.

Plans: Tenants do not want to return.

Quote: Linda Chung, Baek Yong Chong’s sister: “They lost everything. I don’t know how they can survive.”

12. Payless Shoesource, 8534 S. Vermont.

Merchandise: Shoes.

Financial status: Has insurance.

Owner: Heydorff-Illig group.

Tenant: A branch of Payless Shoesource corporation.

Other locations: 3,300 nationwide. More than 50 in Los Angeles County.

Quote: Corporate spokesman Rick Nida: “We are not talking about the L.A. situation.”

13. Dr. F.E. Campbell, dentist, 953 W. Manchester Ave.

Financial status: Has insurance.

Owner: Heydorff-Illig group.

Tenant: Campbell, who runs 12 offices with his sons, David and Frank. F.E. Campbell’s father, Falconer, opened the first office in 1940.

Employees: About a dozen, who have been moved to other locations.

Plans: Would like to rebuild. Seeking to erect a makeshift dental office in parking lot behind the building by June.

Other locations: Inglewood, Culver City, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Long Beach, downtown Los Angeles, Torrance, Pasadena, North Hollywood, La Mirada, Vermont-Manchester and Huntington Park.

14. Seymour Rosenblum Auto Insurance, 951 Manchester Ave.

Financial status: Although there is an active lease on the building, the insurance brokerage moved out Jan. 1.

Owner: Heydorff-Illig group.

Tenant: Seymour Rosenblum, at the location for more than 10 years, moved out because business was bad, according to his agent, Shoun Beiglou.

Employees: Had two, who were moved to another location.

Other locations: Western and Washington.

Quote: Shoun Beiglou: “The neighborhood wasn’t the way it once was. We sort of had an idea that this could happen.”

15. Fashion Under $10, 947 Manchester Ave.

Merchandise: Clothing.

Financial status: Had between $35,000 and $40,000 in sales per month. Store owner values business at $125,000. insurance covers damage.

Owner: Heydorff-Illig group.

Tenants: Lien V. (Larry) Pham, 49, and his wife, Hong Hoa, 34, born in Saigon. Came to United States in 1981.

Employees: Three, including the Phams, who also operate the business.

Plans: Tenants do not want to return.

Other locations: The Phams own five nail salons. A sixth salon at 4342 Crenshaw was also gutted by fire.

Quote: Larry Pham: “It’s not fair at all. Whether you agree or disagree with the verdict, you don’t do this. You don’t make it work by looting and violence. We feel unhappy for our store and everybody’s store.”


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