Westwood Village launches new tourism initiative to reclaim shoppers


Merchants in Westwood remember the Village as a shopping Mecca in the 1970s and '80s. But over the decades retailers fled. The empty stores seen today are the result of many downturns in the economy and competition from other Westside shopping destinations like The Grove and the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. Westwood merchants are trying to stage a comeback.

"At its worst it was really homeless, a lot of vacancy and a loss of the tourism," said realtor Randy Starr.

But now retailers have launched a renewal project by forming the Westwood Village Improvement Association (WVIA) and paying for upgrades. The association produced a video showing merchants' dollars at work, removing graffiti, trying to make up for services cut by the city of Los Angeles.

"Where the city used to empty trash cans, now we do that," said Andrew Thomas, executive director of WVIA and the Westwood Business Improvement District. "The city used to trim trees, now we do that. We are repairing sidewalks, we're doing a number of things the city used to do."

And there's more security too. We saw it in action as a shopper clashed with a homeless man. The Business Association has hired what they call "ambassadors" to keep the peace.

"That is one of the things our company tries to do: Approach everybody with respect and give them suggestions of positive outcomes," said Matrone Hutchings, a Westwood Village Ambassador.

"Westwood, as to crime, now there's really none. Westwood really doesn't have any issues with that," said Wendy Shane, owner of Shanes Jewelry.

"Our first thought was right now, Where is a safe area to go. But I feel comfortable walking around," said Orange County resident Nicole Baedeker.

Ambassadors also give directions, particularly for parking. They say are more spaces here than people realize.

And there is a new Target store and supermarkets to improve foot traffic.

Still, commercial realtor Randy Starr says it will take millions here to bring back the throngs.

"I want to see sledgehammers -- I don't see that yet," said Starr.

That outlook does not deter Westwood merchants.

"The reality is we're not going to have that large investment," said Andrew Thomas. "We need to find a way to do better with what we have."

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