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Occupy L.A. is more hassle than boon to L.A. Mall merchants

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With the Occupy L.A. tent community just steps from the L.A. Mall, one might expect the underground retail center to be reaping the benefits of the growing crowd.

But many merchants said it’s been more of a headache than a windfall.

Salim Virani said his dry-cleaning business has suffered from layoffs in recent months at nearby government facilities downtown, including Los Angeles City Hall. So he wasn’t thrilled to have Occupy L.A. campers come by and ask him to clean up to 30 sleeping bags, free of charge.

PHOTOS: Occupy protesters’ day of action

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“They are asking for the impossible,” said Virani, who has operated Elite Cleaners in the mall for more than 20 years.

Virani said the protesters were angry at being turned down, perhaps because many businesses, including restaurants, have provided food, goods and services to the campers for free.

At California Pita, cashier Danny Davood said the eatery initially served as many as 10 campers a day who bought falafels and hummus. But they stopped coming after they found free food elsewhere, he said.

Lisa Hoshizaki at Crown Cards and Gifts said she worries that the protesters are driving away customers, who have complained that campers ask them for money.

The mall, with about 20 merchants, might be better described as a subterranean food court, a place where downtown workers in search of convenience can pick up lunch and a few sundries at the CVS drugstore.

Protesters have added some foot traffic, holding meetings and collecting water for showers from the now-dry water fountain.

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Several businesses reported a slight uptick in sales. The copy center inside the U.S. Postal Service office receives weekly visits from protesters looking to print black-and-white fliers at a quarter a sheet. It’s a Grind said that the coffee shop has a few regulars from the camp.

But at one store, merchandise that hasn’t been paid for is said to be flying off the shelf.

A CVS employee said that $730 worth of toiletries, alcohol and first-aid supplies had been stolen from the store over a two-week period in late October. In the report filed Oct. 27 with mall security, the employee said “thefts were occurring because [of] the newly frequent visits from the Occupy L.A. people.”

Occupy L.A. representatives didn’t dispute the claim, noting that many of the protesters don’t have jobs or money.

“Compare [the shoplifting] with the theft of homes by huge banks and I think we have a bit of context,” said Mark Lipman, a protester from Mar Vista.

PHOTOS: Occupy protesters’ day of action

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angel.jennings@latimes.com
twitter.com/LATangel

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