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Sunday, May 22, 2022

RETAIL—Pocket of Small-Town Shops Stays Alive in Beverly Hills

The mom-and-pop block includes a hardware store, a corner grocery, an old-fashioned barbershop, a shoe repair shop and a European bakery. Its clientele includes former First Lady Nancy Reagan and actor Charlton Heston.

And it’s in Beverly Hills better yet, Mayberry 90210.

The 300 block of north Crescent Drive has been turned into an old-fashioned mini Main Street housing the practical side of retailing. Instead of trendy boutiques and nightspots, you come across the likes of Pascal Mucetti, a longtime barber born in Genoa, Italy.

For 32 years he had operated a barbershop on Doheny Drive before being forced to make way for the new Four Seasons Hotel. So Mucetti packed up his green leather barber chairs (now more than 50 years old) and his cash register (now a 100-year-old relic which he still uses), and set up shop at 311 N. Crescent.

“My clients followed me and come from all over,” says the 69-year-old Mucetti inside his compact barbershop. Actually, Mucetti is sort of a legend. Many of his clients were stars during Hollywood’s golden age, as evidenced by the framed black-and-white glossy photos hanging on the walls. Folks like Fred Astaire and Rudy Vallee. Current clients include James Caan, Desi Arnaz Jr. and Al Martino.

“The police chief of Beverly Hills is coming in 20 minutes,” Mucetti tells a visitor.

Competitive edge

Merchants like Mucetti would have a tough time making if it weren’t for their landlord the city of Beverly Hills which for the past 20 years has been charging below-market rents to help maintain the small-town pocket of proprietors.

At $1.80 to $2.40 a square foot, monthly, the rents for the eight retail spaces are about one-tenth those charged on Rodeo Drive.

That helps stores like Pioneer & Lucerne Hardware sell decidedly unglamorous items like nails, hammers, paint and plungers. “The rents in the city didn’t allow for the normal types of businesses a city needed to function,” recalls Joe Tilem, a Beverly Hills lawyer who was the city’s mayor in the late 1970s.

In keeping with their fussy clientele, these Crescent Drive merchants focus on customer service. Unlike the impersonal ways of Home Depot, Pioneer & Lucerne Hardware offers home deliveries and, if it doesn’t have a particular item in stock, it immediately puts in a special order. The age of its employees ranges from 22 to 82 with some of the older members having been at the store for decades.

To give his business a competitive edge, the store’s chief executive, Jeffrey Tilem, son of former mayor Joe Tilem, set up a handyman service to help out residents who don’t have a clue about home repair. “We’re an old-fashioned general store,” says Jeffrey Tilem, whose family started the hardware store in Manhattan in 1925 and moved it to Beverly Hills in the early 1980s.

The result has been a loyal following among local residents.

Rooted in tradition

“I pick up all my hardware here,” says Paul Proctor, a longtime customer and actor whose voice was that of the drunken French monkey in both of Eddie Murphy’s “Dr. Doolittle” movies. “I can count on personal, friendly service from people who are connected to the store and don’t feel like employees.”

Friendly customer service is what Shawn Saeedian relies on to keep his corner grocery store going. As owner of the Beverly Hills Market, he faces tough competition from a Whole Foods Market on the next block.

The small grocer offers delivery service and the deliveryman will even pick up your laundry at the dry cleaners next door.

The market’s customer service was in evidence one recent afternoon as Saeedian stood at the front of the store and a customer beckoned him to the produce section. “I need you to find me a good watermelon,” she said.

So Saeedian, who bought the market in 1990 after owning a grocery store in Pico Rivera, thumped a few green globes before hoisting out a good one.

Nearby, Shirley Levey, a Beverly Hills resident for nearly 80 years, was picking through the cherries and grapes in search of the best ones. “I come here all the time,” she said, noting that Beverly Hills Market is one of the last places that make the area feel like a neighborhood. “They’re my friends. I shop at other places too, but we have to patronize our mom-and-pops to keep a touch of old Beverly Hills.”

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