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Venice’s new bloom

Step inside the Rose Market near the corner of Rose and 5th avenues in Venice, and make your way to the refrigerator in the back. Small orange price stickers say that $3.50 will get you 40 ounces of Bud Light.

To pay, slide your money through a slot to a cashier who sits behind bulletproof glass.

Take 10 steps west and you’re staring at a funky building that looks as if it’s been covered with moon rocks. At Moon Juice, $3.50 will buy you just a two-ounce shot of a detoxifying acid mineral complex called “Liquid Light” and a bit of change for the tip jar. If you want a full glass of organic cold-pressed “Gracious Greens” juice, it’ll cost you $12.

To pay, hand your money to young workers who give each other massages behind the counter while serving their customers.

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Skid Rose, meet Restaurant Rose.

Urban planners say Rose Avenue is unlikely to become the next Abbott Kinney -- the nearby boulevard recently dubbed “The Coolest Block in America” by GQ magazine -- but the breakneck pace of change along these once shabby blocks connecting Lincoln Boulevard to Pacific Avenue suggests that the down-and-out bohemian days of this countercultural beach neighborhood are numbered.

If Rose Avenue could turn white-hot overnight, other Venice streets could soon follow.

“The tipping point,” said former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, “has been tipped.”

When he created his “Venice-of-America” in 1905, Abbott Kinney envisioned a showcase of art and culture. Instead, said Betsy Goldman, Venice Historical Society co-founder, the public insisted on a “honky-tonk” carnival atmosphere with gondola excursions and camel rides.

For decades that carnival vibe was reincarnated: In the 1950s and ‘60s, Goldman said, Venice served as a gathering place for hippies, homeless people and beatnik intellectuals and musicians like Jim Morrison. Beach life and an atmosphere of permissiveness drew motorcycle gang members and drug addicts as well. Pawnshops and liquor stores sprouted.

Venice gained a reputation as a rough outpost among beach communities. Occasional violence and the presence of homeless people deterred business owners for years. By the early 1990s, police say, area crime had hit an all-time high.

But Rose Avenue rents were cheap. A few retailers thought they might draw shoppers from Santa Monica. So Alan Schniderman opened his DNA Clothing store on the block in the 1980s.

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People slept in a nearby parking lot, he said. Cockroaches scuttled across the asphalt. Schniderman recalls a red curtain that marked a peep show just off Rose Avenue on Main Street.

The rehabilitation of the Venice Canals in the early 1990s made the surrounding property in the south part of the neighborhood more attractive but largely left Rose Avenue and adjoining Oakwood behind.

Schniderman was shocked when a tiny wine shop opened two blocks down in 2006.

“When they opened,” he said, “I thought, ‘They’re never going to make it.’ ”

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“Hey, hey, good to see ya!” Oscar Hermosillo shouted over the chatter, clapping a friend on the back. The owner of Venice Beach Wines couldn’t even walk out the back of his wine bar one recent Friday night. The 500-square-foot space was packed tighter than standing room only.

When Hermosillo got some wiggle room, he greeted three more people on the way to the door and then stopped to chat with two men outside. A few steps away, a woman bundled in layers of shirts and jackets emerged from Rose Market with a beer and retrieved a shopping cart filled with her belongings. Two couples wrapped in peacoats and sweater vests strutted past her in the other direction.

Friends told Hermosillo he was crazy to lease the former Mexican bodega on Rose Avenue for his wine shop six years ago.

And things got worse before they got better: About a year after the wine shop opened, the neighborhood’s famous Pioneer Bakery across the street was bulldozed. Pedestrians were mostly Rose Market regulars. There were no street lights; Hermosillo said some customers would call before coming in because the street felt unsafe.

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Still, locals bought wine by the case. By 2008, Flake Cafe had opened a few doors down, followed by a Whole Foods to the east and a landscape design house called Big Red Sun. Hermosillo eventually converted his wine store to a wine bar.

Meanwhile, population was dropping, and median household incomes were rising, up 40% in the vicinity of Rose during the decade, according to recent U.S. census data.

There was also a shift in the neighborhood’s ethnic makeup as whites moved in and Latinos moved out. In 2000, about half the people living in the two census tracts along Rose were Latino, and only a third white. But by 2010, the proportions had flipped, with whites now making up nearly half of all residents.

Rose Avenue still had a rough edge. Scores of recreational vehicles with people living in them were parked just steps from restaurant patrons eating outside. Flake co-owner Paige Clay said she called the police regularly, and would arrive to find homeless people asleep on her doorstep.

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In response, the city in 2010 approved a patchwork of parking bans for large vehicles in the area.

Then, last February, police began enforcing a curfew at Venice Beach, forcing people who slept there to move to an encampment on 3rd Avenue near Rose. In May, they cleared the encampment too, although they allowed a few dozen people to return and sleep late at night, without leaving belongings.

Today, shoppers and restaurant patrons far outnumber homeless people on Rose Avenue. Moon Juice opened last January, and a few months later a new development opened on the Pioneer Bakery site. Rents there for one of the 70 units range from $3,140 for a one-bedroom to $4,369 for a two-bedroom, said a spokesman with Archstone, the Englewood, Colo.-based owner.

The project also includes commercial space leased to such establishments as Cafe Gratitude, with menu offerings named “I AM LIBERATED” and “I AM DAZZLING.”

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Old-timers here remember a Venice where artists worked in inexpensive beachfront homes, naked people roamed the sand and drug dealers rubbed shoulders with day-trippers on roller skates.

“The prevailing sense is that this is good for Venice, but Venice not being this way is what made us special,” said Linda Lucks, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council and a 42-year resident. “So is this going to make us more like Manhattan Beach? Old-timers in Venice do not want that.”

As he sat along the water coloring in bubble letters on cardboard, homeless advocate David Busch, 57, called for resistance. With its street art displays, henna tattoo parlors and medical marijuana dispensaries, the Venice Beach boardwalk still draws tourists who want to sample the old vibe. But Busch said commercial leases are getting pricier there too, hastening what he called “a process of destruction” throughout Venice.

“It’s one place everybody in Los Angeles has a concern to protect,” he said. “People come here to see something unique. They’re not coming to see a Nordstrom.”

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Other Venetians welcome the change. “Yes, the opportunities that the ‘60s offered may be gone. But where is that not the case?” asked Jack Hoffmann, a 27-year resident and longtime real estate broker whom some have dubbed the “Mayor of Venice.”

With another restaurant slated to open on Rose soon and Google now occupying the Frank Gehry-designed Binoculars Building on Main Street, there seems to be no turning back for Venice.

Lucks and others in the neighborhood point to Lincoln Boulevard as the next “hipster spot.” Lincoln Fine Wines opened there in 2008, and art galleries, boutiques and a German sausage kitchen have recently cropped up amid body shops, tattoo parlors and an adult video store.

Some residents have already nicknamed the stretch of Lincoln between Rose Avenue and Washington Boulevard “The Linc.”

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Another old liquor store hangs on there, north of Venice Boulevard. It, too, has tiny orange stickers along a row of beer bottles. Forty ounces of Miller High Life costs $3.99.

A few steps south, a boutique displays a pair of men’s jeans priced at $178.

--

matt.stevens@latimes.com

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Times data analyst Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.


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