There is a large part of me that is sad to be leaving Venice Beach. Even though I’m only going an hour (or 30 minutes with no traffic, two hours during rush hour) inland, I’ll miss the bohemian life of the beach-dweller, being able to roll out of bed, head down to the boardwalk to grab a cup of Italian press coffee and a muffin; to look out at the beach feeling the salty sting in the air, watching the sidewalk vendors setting up their displays…
In fact, I already miss it.
It’s sad but true – the Venice I moved to 7 years ago is not the same enclave of funky coffee shops, greasy pizza joints and strange artsy people. Sure, some of these places still exist, but they are becoming much rarer. In fact, a few months ago, we just got our first real chain store close to the beach (there are a couple two blocks inland, but these new ones are sadly just a few steps from the boardwalk) – a Coffee Bean. Of course, the Coffee Bean is cattycorner from another independent café called Café Collage; along with the Coffee Bean a Campos Tacos (local chain) and Quiznos sub and Flight Centre have magically appeared. I guess that it’s only a matter of time before Starbucks and the big fast food chains move in, replacing the mom-and-pop hot dog and pizza stands that dot the boardwalk.
Just within the past 6 months, Abbott Kinney Blvd, one of the main shopping streets has undergone a massive transformation. The old houses and office buildings from Venice’s early hey-day have been quickly replaced by steel and concrete post-modern structures, casting shadows on what was a fun street to walk along and slowly edging out any non-conformist, non-trendy stores. Skater punks no longer sport dreads or look high on heroin, crack, or meth; instead they wear American Apparel t-shirts, are ripped, and look like GQ models. Last week while grabbing a veggie tamale at the Tortilla Grill, one of the remaining affordable places on the street, part of me thought that at least it was cool there were still no major chain stores along this strip yet. That is, until I looked across the street. In big pink and white letters, standing out eerily among the more demure painted store signs was a Pinkberry Yogurt Shop.
With each coming week, it seems like the edginess that I so cherished and loved is giving way to mainstream culture – a haven for yuppies and those with bank accounts that can afford the unrealistic rents. Older business are slowly being priced out by tripling rents, newer, slicker, more generic places moving in. Even though this is true in most other places, like San Francisco and Santa Cruz, it seems particularly distressing that this change is happening in Venice, since traditionally Venice has signified everything that is revolutionary, bohemian and unconventional about American counter-culture.
The voices of rebellion are quickly being replaced by those of the complacent – people who don’t care about much more than their tax-breaks and home appreciation costs; people who don’t give to the community, but instead move in, take what they can get, drive up prices and then leave within a couple of years.
I hope that Venice doesn’t entirely become the bastion of the rich and famous. It is the most popular tourist attraction in So Cal, after all (even more popular than Disneyland, apparently). Unfortunately, the developers don’t realize that part of the attraction is the funky craziness, and the last thing we need in LA is yet another sterile amusement park-type place with a bunch of big box stores.