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VENICE

Bountiful is packed to the rafters with every conceivable piece of furniture you could want in your house.

Chairs, cups, old pots, beds, eight-foot mirrors it’s all there. It’s like being lost in a giant version of your grandmother’s attic, at least until you check the prices. Two thousand dollars for a dented coffee table?

Welcome to Abbot Kinney Avenue, the heart of Venice’s trendy shopping district.

Despite jaw-dropping prices and a nagging crime problem, Abbot Kinney merchants say business has never been better.

Sue Balmford, owner of Bountiful, said the street has come alive in the four years since she opened.

“When I came here, nearly every shop on the street had a for-sale sign on it. My business has doubled every year on the street. We started with sales of half a million per year and it has gone up from there.”

“For the last four years I’ve been running at 30 percent ahead of every yesterday I ever had,” said Carol Tantau-Smith, head of the Venice Chamber of Commerce, Abbot Kinney resident and owner of a shop that sells everything from jewelry to light fixtures.

Noah Farrall, owner of Abbot’s Habit coffee shop, opened his business four years ago and has lived in a home on Abbot Kinney for eight years.

“In the past year and a half things have gotten better, people are spending more money to start businesses,” Farrall said. “Business for me has been good from day one, but people will always buy coffee. They only buy furniture when they have money.”

Said L.A. City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter: “We didn’t really do anything the residents and merchants came up with programs and we just helped them out,” she said.

For example, when the merchants wanted to plant palm trees up and down the street, they raised $50,000 on their own with a fund-raising drive.

The same goes for the Abbot Kinney Street Festival, which draws thousands of potential customers each year.

“We just provide the P.A. system and the police,” Galanter said.

Still, violent crime remains a serious problem in the Oakwood area adjacent to Abbot Kinney. The homicide rate has started to pick up in the LAPD’s Pacific division, which encompasses Venice, after four years of decline. There have been 21 homicides in the area so far this year, most of them gang-related, compared with a total of 20 in 1996.

Robberies, on the other hand, have shown a 25 percent decrease in the area since 1993, while burglary is off more than 30 percent.

The area suffered its latest rash of gang-related shootings over the summer, according to senior lead officer Gerry Smedley of the LAPD, who is assigned to the Oakwood/Abbot-Kinney area.

“It’s the drug trade that is keeping the whole neighborhood down,” he said.

But crime does not seem to bother many of the Abbot Kinney shop owners.

“There is plenty of crime in the area, but it is mostly drug related. If you are not involved in that, you don’t have a problem,” Farrall said.

Tantau-Smith said she has always felt safe in the neighborhood, though she admits to hearing the gunfire when she is at home.

Even so, Abbot Kinney remains trendy especially with the entertainment industry crowd.

“There is a certain allure to the neighborhood. A lot of people in the movie industry have disposable income but feel that Beverly Hills is too upper-crust, so they come here,” Tantau-Smith said.

The area boasts a high percentage of mixed-use zoning, allowing tenants to both live and work at the same location. As a result, the area is now rich in screenwriters and graphic designers.

Special effects studio Digital Domain calls the Abbot-Kinney area home, while TBWA Chiat-Day Inc., the advertising company that created the Energizer Bunny, was located up the road, but is now moving.

Ironically, mixed zoning is a prime factor keeping the area from attracting larger scale investment.

“The ability to do (mixed zoning) is great, but if you have to do it, it can be a pain. From a resale standpoint we prefer single-purpose,” said Matthew May, partner at real estate firm Madison Partners in West L.A. Besides the design difficulties involved in building a mixed-use structure, most landlords prefer to lock up their businesses at the end of the day and know it will be vacant until morning, he said.

“(Abbot Kinney) is at the end of the world,” said Gerald Porter, president of commercial real estate brokerage Metrospace Corp. “It is more inaccessible than any Westside address.”

The limited size of most commercial lots in the area is another factor keeping larger tenants away.

“You couldn’t put a 20,000-foot office there even if you wanted to,” Porters said. Chiat/Day is moving to Playa del Rey because its Venice facility was too small.

But then, any major office construction would change the character of the area which local residents want to keep intact.

“I wouldn’t move out of this neighborhood for all the tea in China,” said Balmford.

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