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Thursday, Feb 22, 2024

LOANS—Pacoima Small Businesses Have Few Crime Concerns

It wasn’t that long ago that Josefina Salazar experienced a couple break-ins a year at her Pacoima beauty parlor. But it was never enough to drive the owner of Lirita’s Beauty Salon on Amboy Avenue out of business. “They caused more damage than they stole,” said Salazar, 51, owner of the shop since 1981. “But we don’t have a problem anymore.” Indeed, for many business owners in Pacoima, things have gotten better in recent years, as small shops have become less of a target for robberies and break-ins. Clustered along the Van Nuys Boulevard corridor, and up and down Valencia and Laurel Canyon boulevards, many of those small businesses have been in the same locations in the predominantly Latino neighborhood for decades. Their established reputations are what their owners say keep them in business, and, for the most part, out of harm’s way. “Some people talk bad about Pacoima,” Salazar said. “But I’m very happy here.” Historically, robberies are more prevalent at larger chain operations, said Senior Lead Officer Ted Watson, who oversees the area for the Los Angeles Police Department. For the most part, crime stays away from small businesses in the area. “The people who shop at these businesses know these owners,” Watson said. “It’s a very tight community.” Bob Scott, vice chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, agrees. “Pacoima epitomizes the idea of community,” he said. “The whole Northeast Valley area has long been an economically modest, but at the same time community-active area where you have a lot of folks who enjoy their community, take care of their community and are happy and proud to be part of the San Fernando Valley community.” Business robberies in the Pacoima area, including those at small and corporate-owned establishments, are down 37 percent this year, with a total of 37 incidents so far, authorities said. Burglaries are down 32 percent, with 41 last year and 28 so far this year. Other crimes, such as burglaries from vehicles, are down 33 percent, with 263 incidents in 1999 and 175 this year. “There’s a lot of respect among people in the community,” Watson said. “These owners are hard-working. The customers know them. Unlike K mart, these stores are run by a man and his wife. A lot of these people don’t even have cars and can walk to work. The people in Pacoima have been there a long time and live by modest means.” Even gang members have been known to show respect to small business owners, as has been the case for Elvia Bravo, owner of Gloria’s Flowers on Van Nuys Boulevard for 22 years. “If you respect them, they respect you,” said Bravo, explaining that gang members often stop by her small shop just to chat. About 10 years ago, Bravo discovered some graffiti on the back of her building. The very next day, a young man approached her about it. “He said, ‘Lady, I need to speak to you I’m sorry’,” Bravo recalled. When she asked him why he was apologizing, the young man pointed to the wall. “He said, ‘It will never happen again.'” The most serious crime at the flower shop occurred about 17 years ago when a masked man entered the store and demanded money from Bravo’s husband, Fernando. Alone in the shop at the time, Fernando Bravo showed no fear and in fact started throwing tools at the perpetrator, scaring him off, Elvia Bravo said. “We never had a problem again,” she said. Problems have also eased at Lirita’s Beauty Salon. Established in the late 1940s, the beauty shop where a haircut still starts at $8 is like a second home to many neighborhood clients, some of whom have had their hair done regularly at the humble parlor since long before Salazar took over. “I stay here because my clients know me,” Salazar said. “They know my beauty shop.” The sense of community is an asset for Pacoima’s small businesses, said police Capt. Kenneth Garner, commanding officer of the LAPD’s Foothill Division, which encompasses Pacoima. “It’s a real strong business community,” Garner said. “A big part of that is the support they get from the community. If you make your community happy, that’s how you stay afloat.” For the most part, small business owners do not appear too concerned about competing corporate businesses, which are relatively few and far between compared to the mom-and-pop establishments. Along the Van Nuys corridor, for instance, chains like Kentucky Fried Chicken, Auto Zone and Pizza Hut are easily outnumbered by the family-owned flower shops, beauty parlors, discount auto shops, pharmacies, television repair shops and Mexican food establishments. Mike Garcia, director and founder of the non-profit San Juan Macias Orientation Immigration Center on Van Nuys Boulevard, said the 22-year-old organization has never had to deal with serious crime, nor have any of its neighbors. “We’ve never had a problem,” Garcia said. “As long as there’s immigrants, there’s work for us.”

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