Category Archives: Business

BUSINESS: El Payasito – `You get into what you have to get into to survive in this country’

In large parts of the LA economic ecosystem, immigrants alone participate.

The other day I happened on El Payasito, one of the great stores in LA. It sells all that anyone needs for a Mexican birthday party.

It’s owned by an Iranian immigrant named Sam, who wouldn’t give me his last name and didn’t want to be photographed.

He was a civil engineer in Iran and left after the Iranian Revolution. He owned an auto shop with a cousin for a while. Then saw that a much larger shop had burned on Pico Blvd, in Pico-Union, bought it and was renovating the place. He put a few things out for sale, and people snapped them up.

So instead of a auto shop, it became a kind of thrift store for a few years, selling remainders. Then a salesman for a party supply shop came by and begged him to let him open up two aisles of the store to his products. Sam did and they sold immediately. He opened more aisles, and sold out again.

He renamed the store El Payasito (Little Clown) and learned some Spanish and that’s how he’s spent the last 25 years: selling candy, cups, plates, toys, tortilla holders, candles, pots, pans and a lot more from his converted body shop on Pico. Dozens of pinatas — which he gets from Tijuana, and some from LA, and are the only thing in his store not from China, apparently — hang from his ceiling.

“The Latino market is just huge,” he told me. “When they make it they spend it.”

I’m fascinated by the immigrants who’ve made a living here selling Mexicans the most intimate parts of their culture: parties, food, clothes. I wrote a story years ago for the LA Times on just this. Had I known about El Payasito then, I would have included it.

Sam’s is worthy of a Chekhov short story. An immigrant engineer, fleeing political upheaval comes to a new land and ends up selling party supplies to Mexicans. Man, I love that story.

“You get into what you have to get into to survive in this country,” he said.




1 Comment

Filed under Business, Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Southern California

STREETS: Adan, ice cream vendor

Adan, ice cream vendor, from Puebla, Mexico, Glassell Park, Los Angeles

Took this photo the other day when I was in Glassell Park, in northeast L.A.

I was asking Adan if he wasn’t afraid driving through Drew Street in Glassell Park, which had been a very frightening place, due to a gang that once controlled it. He said he’d been driving the street for three years with no problems.

I asked him if he’d mind if I took his photo. He crouched down and here it is.

1 Comment

Filed under Business, Gangs, Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants

BUSINESS: Kelvin Anderson and World Famous VIP Records

Kelvin Anderson, owner of World Famous VIP Records in Long Beach

I’ve been spending time lately with Kelvin Anderson, owner of World Famous VIP Records in Long Beach, a ferociously independent record store.

Anderson’s store is a landmark, one of the places where rap began in Southern California, and a store that hung on long beyond others because it mastered the art of customer service, knowing what people wanted, and got them in touch with emerging artists who didn’t get any radio play.

But he’s downsizing now, moving from the space he occupied for 33 years and this will probably be his last year, the last independent record store around. “You can’t compete with free,” he told me.

Anderson was there at the beginning of one of the three great DIY musical forces to come out of LA. In Hollywood, it was punk in the late 1970s. In the late 1980s, from Paramount came Chalino Sanchez and Mexican drug ballads, narcocorridos.

Anderson helped mid-wife gangster rap, which emerged in the mid-1980s and into the 1990s, from the garages of Compton then Long Beach came West Coast gangster rap — first with NWA, then with Snoop Dogg and his 213 crew. 213’s first demo was recorded on a drum machine in VIP’s backroom.

Anderson’s advertisement was getting new cassettes in the hands of those with big car stereos and ghetto blasters — “street promotion.”  (Gangster rap was so punk rock.)

Yet I wonder whether these kinds of geographic movements of intense garage band creativity are as possible nowadays, even as technology has allowed everyone to be a DIYer, all from a laptop computer, and avoid entirely the control of major record labels.  “It’s people’s attention span,” Anderson told me.

Hope to have a podcast of an interview with him (a first for me!) that’ll go with the story on VIP’s downsizing, which I hope will run in a few days.



Leave a Comment

Filed under Business, Los Angeles