With all the lease signs posted on the windows of the stores lining Westwood Boulevard, the pall that hovers over the graveyard of failed ventures is reminiscent of the nearby cemetery on Veteran Avenue.
Notorious lack of parking and high rents are some of the factors that have driven people away and left UCLA a perpetual ghost town. While parking and high rents are not necessarily issues students could redress, there are other things that we, as a community, can all do.
My advice: The Westwood Neighborhood Council should attempt to distinguish Westwood from other places by encouraging the establishment of businesses that cannot be found elsewhere within a 50-mile radius. Only then would people find it compelling enough to make the arduous trip to Westwood and tolerate the difficult parking and driving arrangements.
While establishments like Subway and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf are convenient, the real problem lies in the fact that they add no character to the village. The ubiquitous nature of these establishments provides less of a reason why people should visit Westwood. After all, why would any rational person outside of UCLA desire to pay to park in the Broxton Avenue parking lot to sip some coffee at Starbucks when they could just visit the one in Culver City and enjoy the unlimited parking spaces?
On the other hand, students for their part should show their solidarity behind the smaller, lesser-known businesses in Westwood, such as Thank You Mart (affectionately known as the $3.99 store). Only when students decide to make more intrepid decisions in their shopping ventures, will smaller stores respond to the demand and fill this niche. While I concede that there is a chance that this may at times lead to some poor dining outcomes, in the long run, such minor risks will cultivate the charm of a unique college town, a quality that our village is currently bereft of.
Yet there are a few lessons that these smaller stores can take away from popular chains.
Good restaurants have happy hours but successful restaurants like to make people happy all day long. The upscale Palomino understood that happy hour does not have to be limited to a certain period of the day when it decided to feature all-day appetizer specials in the bar, which include thin-crust pizzas and appetizers, all for an affordable price!
Second, the more options, the better. This could not be truer in regard to frozen yogurt, where self-serve is the rule. The advent of Yogurtland to the quaint village of Westwood forever changed the landscape of this competition. Unlike Pinkberry, once the supreme purveyor of this delightful treat, Yogurtland gave students autonomy when it came to how much yogurt students wanted, what flavor they not only wanted but got to sample, and what toppings they desired.
It is surprising to realize that Westwood was not always as desolate as it is today. Once upon a time, it was the entertainment hub in Los Angeles: Boasting 17 movie screens, it was one of the largest concentrations of single-screen movie theaters in the world. Streets were so congested on Friday and Saturday nights that at one point, it was even shut down. According to Daily Bruin archives, this all changed on Jan. 30, 1988, when a shooting outbreak occurred between two rival gangs in the village, leaving one person dead.
Westwood never fully recovered from the shock, and since then, economic activity never approached levels witnessed in its golden era.
But there is more to this story that must be told.
The truth of the matter is that Westwood was already beginning to see decline by the 1980s. It simply could not compete with new communities, including Third Street Promenade, Universal Studios CityWalk and the new AMC theaters at the Century City mall, according to Daily Bruin archives.
Revitalizing Westwood should not solely be the task of the Westwood Neighborhood Council or Westwood Community Council but rather a community-wide effort that includes the efforts of the very students who call this village home while they attend UCLA.
While these are certainly not the only strategies for success, they are a starting point to not only think about what smaller establishments should do to replicate the success that these chains once experienced in the Westwood Village. Perhaps with these changes, Westwood will soon arouse from its long slumber.