It's the same scene every night. Cars and vans pull up and double park in the small parking lot. People frantically step out of their vehicles with a mountain load of cardboard boxes swaddled in packing tape, being sent to destinations near and far.

They're doing the last-minute shuffle at one of the oldest distribution centers operated by United Parcel Service in Los Angeles.

The facility is located at 1201 W. Olympic Blvd. near downtown's diverse community of apparel manufacturers, importers, exporters, and fabric makers who have until 6 p.m. each night to get their packages to the East Coast and 7 p.m. for delivery to 13 Western states and Pacific Rim destinations.

As UPS tractor-trailers rumble out of the 330,000-square-foot facility on their way to airports in Long Beach or Ontario, UPS's hub, customers queue up inside the small receiving area. Bodies jostle bodies. People are wedged between stacks of boxes.

The line spills out the door and snakes along the sidewalk. To make the most of their time, some customers lean atop their hill of brown boxes and fill out the shipping forms needed to track their packages. Others pull out commercial-size checkbooks and start recording the necessary paperwork.

The bored anxiously watch the steady progression of the line or the new arrivals who seem to perform an acrobatic balancing act as they pile packages atop dollies and wheel them up.

"I can help someone over here," yells one clerk as people look up and inch their boxes closer to the counter.

"Is that going to be a money order or cash?" asks another customer service rep, speaking to a man who doesn't understand English very well and crinkles up his nose in confusion.

Diverse customers

Most of those in line are from another land. They are Indian, Persian, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, or El Salvadoran, reflecting the mix of the downtown business world.

Mushir Khan, who owns America Imports, is a regular customer. Today he is shipping boxes of Indian leather goods to Arizona and Nevada that must be there in the next two or three days. "I generally come here because it is near my office. We close our doors at 5:30 p.m. and then come here before going home. Sometimes it's really hard to get here and get everything shipped on time. It was really busy before Christmas."

Julio Ramero of Importaciones Olvera is sending belts, wallets and various trinkets to stores in Mexico. "I come here every day," he said, noting he ships anywhere from four to 12 packages a day. "It's always like this."

David, the owner of a small apparel company who didn't want to give his last name, is sending off a box of men's clothing he designed to a San Francisco store. He's hoping that his line will be popular with his new client and he'll be shipping more packages, like the other customers in line.

While many of those waiting are small-business owners, others are low-level types who have been assigned the chore of unloading packages and schlepping them to the counter. They safeguard the boxes while the owners write out checks or place mailing labels on the packages.

While the downtown facility processes 35,000 packages a day, the scene is much calmer just a few miles away at UPS's newest facility, which opened last August at 1800 N. Main St. in Lincoln Heights, northeast of downtown.

This state-of-the-art facility gleams with shiny metal and clean floors. Conveyer belts deliver packages to the 308 brown trucks parked inside. UPS employees barely have to lift a package into a truck.

This $48 million facility processes 50,000 packages a day, but when it comes to attracting customers, the facility's service area is nearly devoid in the evening.

"People are still learning we are here," said Kirk Tanioka, the package division manager at the facility.

About the only person in line one recent evening was David Elsky, a frequent customer and owner of S & D Fabrics. He was mailing a bedspread to a customer in Palm Springs. His explanation for the short lines: "These guys are pretty efficient."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.