Since it seems we’re big on giving small areas of the Valley their own names (West Toluca Lake, anyone?) Heidi and I have a new moniker for the Ventura Boulevard zone that begins just east of Carpenter Avenue and ends at Laurel Canyon Boulevard. We include Ventura Place in this subset of Studio City, a slanted street that detours from the main drag and transforms from a business hub into the Studio City on Sunday mornings.
We’re going to call it NoPao (which doesn’t quite rhyme with NoHo, but close enough). That’s because one of our favorite restaurants in this zone, , has moved further east down Ventura, leaving and empty shell that apparently being developed into something else we probably won't like as well.
This business neighborhood is changing fast, and the dog and I don’t approve. But at least Kung Pao has a new home. The same can’t be said for another one of our favorite NoPao establishments, , owned by Arthur Bez, 75, and his wife Elizabeth. The tailor shop, located in Carpenter Plaza across Ventura from the missing Kung Pao China Bistro, is going out of business after more than 20 years.
On a visit to the shop last week, my husband found out that the tailor’s last day in Carpenter Plaza would be Saturday, Sept. 3, So Heidi and rushed over on that final day to say goodbye.
My first apartment in the Valley was in this area -- or at least, its “suburbs”-- on Laurelwood Drive, south of Ventura, accessible with a left turn off Carpenter. It was a giant upper in a rambling older building, with two bedrooms and a den that overlooked a sparkling pool attended by a pool man who looked just like Tom Selleck. He’d wave, sometimes. I was very excited to be living on a “Drive” for the first time ever. The street is now mostly condo-ized, and there is no sign of Tom.
I don’t live there anymore, Heidi never did – but we still frequent favorite businesses I discovered while living on Laurelwood. Heidi goes with me to the at Carpenter and Ventura, where she has seen several generations of autos and tires repaired and replaced, respectively (earlier this week, the guys filled us up with coolant and wiper fluid, no charge). We also like in Carpenter Plaza -- although we don’t quite understand the name, given the location.
And for years, we’ve been coming to Richard Michaels Custom Tailors, named for the previous owner. Bez bought the business after emigrating from Lebanon. Heidi was always invited to come into this tailor’s establishment – although the imperturbable Elizabeth’s eyes widened the first time Heidi visited the shop. “That’s a big dog,” she observed calmly. The couple didn’t even mind when my furry companion insisted on wedging herself into the small dressing room with me to protect me from … I don’t know, dangerous flying buttons, or maybe fabric samples. Often, if a repair was small, Arthur or Elizabeth would shoo me out, refusing to quote a cost.
But due to increasing rent and the fact that custom tailoring is a tough sell in casual L.A., we won’t be getting our waistlines nipped and hemlines shortened in Carpenter Plaza anymore. “Custom-made is dying in this city,” Bez laments. “In a cold-weather state, they always wear suits and top coats.” He adds that some patrons buy inexpensive, ill-fitting clothing for under $20 at, say, Marshall’s, and then are upset to discover that making the garment wearable will cost more than the original price. “ I say, if you like, I’ll do it – if not, go someplace else,” Bez says.
Earlier this week, there was a hand-written sign taped to the door of the former Richard Michaels Custom Tailors, suggesting that patrons check in with plaza neighbor Dru’e D. Washington, 69, owner of Harry’s Camera & Video since 1985. Washington will fill them in on how to arrange to pick up any remaining work. Washington says he would visit the tailor’s shop every morning, six days a week, just to say hi – horrifying Bez by leaving his own shop door wide open while they schmoozed.
Washington says Bez would refuse to allow Washington to pay for any tailoring – even though Bez would insist on paying for the batteries he would pick up from Washington’s store. “He’d say, your money is no good with me, “ Washington says. (He also reveals that Bez has a taste for ice cream, including Klondike bars.)
Bez’s adult children have been wanting him to retire, get some rest and spend more time with the grandchildren. But that’s not going to be easy. A few days after the shop closed, I spotted Bez outside the shop, still chatting up his neighbors. And here’s Bez’s idea of retirement: “I’ll spend two weeks taking my wife a little bit here and there, and then I’m going to think about it.” He promised to call his customers if (most likely, when) he turns up somewhere else.
For the moment, Bez’s friend Washington is referring tailoring business to other longtime friends, Kenny and Kiran Sharma, whose shop is on Ventura Place. Washington and the Sharmas have known each other for 40 years, since they both ran their businesses in Santa Monica. It’s all in the family, all in the neighborhood. “One door closes, another opens,” muses Washington. “I just miss Arthur. I miss him already.”
Bez has promised to call if two weeks of retirement is enough and he sets up shop elsewhere. In the meantime, he reminisces about Sundays at the shop in Carpenter Plaza. Thought the business was closed, Bez was often inside, cutting suits in seclusion, avoiding the daily distraction that can result in a mistake. “I close the door, and I chop,” he says.
Yes, things change in NoPao, and the dog and I have to accept it. But it’s certain that Bez will be missed – especially on Sundays, when nobody knew he was there.