Vespa as urban accessory
Varoom! There goes another candy-colored streamlined Vespa zooming through downtown Los Angeles — this one in a tangerine hue. Oh, and there’s one in cherry red. And pastel blue. Did you see the mint-green one with the white daisy decals buzz by?
Since it opened last November on the border between Little Tokyo and the Arts District, Vespa of Los Angeles has encouraged downtown residents to travel the city by scooter — and in style.
The Vespa, which was originally manufactured in 1946 and means “wasp” in Italian, is an iconic European style symbol, seen all over the streets of major cities such as Paris and Milan. Riding one “definitely makes a statement about the person,” says Vespa of Los Angeles owner Roger Miyakawa. Miyakawa says the scooter is perfect for the urban lifestyle of downtown, where residents crave easy, simple ways to navigate tightly packed streets. Plus, it’s environmentally friendly and economical. Compared to a motorcycle, a scooter is smaller, less powerful and distinguished by footboards and an open frame.
If the idea of owning a Vespa sounds appealing, so is the showroom. The 4,000-square-foot space, designed to emphasize the Vespa lifestyle, looks more like a fashion boutique than a vehicle dealership. Its exposed drywall ceiling and concrete flooring were chosen for their “industrial, urban feel,” Miyakawa says. The three large photos of edgy models and bright Vespas lining one wall were taken by Miyakawa, who worked as a fashion photographer before opening the scooter store. At the front, large display windows allow the shiny Vespas within to catch the eyes of passersby, if there are any. Central Avenue runs through the heart of the industrial district and is mainly a route for car, not foot, traffic. But the location hasn’t harmed business. Vespa Los Angeles has sold 106 scooters since opening day, earning it the rank of No. 2 in sales for the Southwest and No. 11 in the nation. It aims to sell 225 scooters a year. By comparison, the San Francisco Vespa store sells 480 scooters a year. There are 34 Vespa stores in California, a testament to the brand’s burgeoning popularity.
Gas mileage is likely part of the equation for these scooters, which typically are better suited for use on city streets than the open road. Some models’ top speed is 39 mph, and for that you get a whopping 95 to 100 miles per gallon, according to the manufacturer. Even models that will go up to 80 mph get 65 to 70 miles per gallon.
Those intrigued by the Vespa may want to check out the store’s test rides — a way to consider a Vespa investment, as the scooters run from $2,000 to $6,900. The shop also offers a bevy of accessories from black leather jackets to pink sparkly helmets and Vespa magnets. Maintenance services are available too.
Meanwhile, Vespa has hit downtown just at the time when the neighborhood is redefining its style. If Miyakawa has his way, the cute and stylish scooters will play a role in characterizing downtown’s new identity.
Vespa of Los Angeles
301 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 620-0022