Lately, there has been much hue and cry in the Hancock Park vicinity about the closure of a number of Larchmont Boulevard restaurants. La Luna closed and Sam's Bagels is allegedly on the chopping block. The rumor is that they will be replaced by chains, possibly a Crumbs cupcake shop or a Panda Express. The HP crowd claims that the local Mom and Pops are being forced out in place of big, impersonal corporations.
Larchmont Boulevard is, of course, a two block commercial strip to the east of Hancock Park. It's home to a number of restaurants and other businesses and has a distinctly Yuppie aesthetic.
Now, I am all for small businesses, but I have to dissent from the conventional wisdom here. First, Mom and Pops aren't always good and chains aren't always bad. Peet's Coffee, for instance, is far better than the undistinguished Cafe Roma which it replaced on Larchmont a few years ago. It makes better coffee and is more of a neighborhood hangout.
In addition, there's a big difference between the giant, mediocre corporate chains, of which there are already several on Larchmont (Noah's, Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Jamba Juice, Baskin Robins) and smaller chains that make a quality product. While Panda Express fits in the former category, Crumbs is a tiny chain, with six stores in New York and one in Beverly Hills.
It would also be different if Larchmont was a treasure trove of good eating, but the sad truth is that the food on Larchmont is mostly mediocre. Every restaurant on the block could vaporize tomorrow and the only thing I'd miss would be Village Pizzeria (which is doing well and opening another branch - which will make it a chain). I really don't find anything else on the strip to recommend.
If great restaurants were closing, I'd be up in arms, but they aren't. I will say that I am saddened by the closure of Larchmont Hardware, a fabulous little shop with good selection and a helpful staff. I'd much rather go there than a large, impersonal Home Depot. I also like the bookstore, but I'm sure that, as with all independent book stores, its days are numbered.
I certainly don't want to see this neighborhood become a generic strip of Anywhere USA chains, but I also don't think that every closure is a tragedy. I don't want Panda Express but I don't think every single shuttering should be greeted with indignation. It would do well for some of the lackluster eateries on Larchmont to be replaced by higher quality places. Until I see what happens, I will reserve judgment and won't be singing the Larchmont Blues.