Saturday, December 10, 2005

Downtown's Toy Town In LA Times!,0,6442016.story?coll=la-home-headlines

The always reliable Bob Pool takes a story on shipping Toytown cardboard boxes back to China and turns it into a quick but comprehensive overview of the history and the present state of Toytown:

... Narrow and lined with tiny storefronts, (South Los Angeles) street is one of the busiest in the city's downtown toy district. About 1,000 shops, stalls and curbside stands fill the bustling area, roughly bounded by 3rd Street on the north, San Pedro Street on the east, 5th Street on the south and Los Angeles Street on the west.

Along with toys, the shops are filled with housewares, sporting goods, silk flowers and clothing imported from such places as Thailand and Pakistan as well as China.Ninety percent of the stores sell at wholesale prices.

The toy district has been growing steadily since importer Charlie Woo started it by opening his own toy import business there in 1979.These days the 54-year-old Woo is called the Mayor of Toytown by other merchants. But back then he was a UCLA student studying for his doctorate in physics when he took a summer off to help other family members launch ABC Toys, a wholesale business.

The business was a quick success. In the 1980s Woo encouraged other Asian-immigrant entrepreneurs who were buying toys from him to sell at swap meets to instead open businesses downtown near him. Woo began buying warehouses and empty buildings in the area and renting space to the newcomers.

"I always thought that bringing more wholesale businesses into the area would be beneficial to everybody," Woo, of Rancho Palos Verdes, said this week.

As the concentration of toy sellers grew, so did the area's reputation. Toy buyers from across the U.S. and other countries found it to be a convenient place to acquire Asian-made merchandise.Woo said the cardboard recycling trade that has sprung up on Toytown streets is a miniature example of the global economy at work.


... A survey several years ago by the Central City East Assn., a business improvement group that represents property owners in the toy district and the neighboring downtown industrial district, tallied more than 300 wholesale and retail stores. A new survey is planned, according to association leaders.

"We don't really have a good count. It's something we want to do in the coming year," said Qathryn Brehm, director of marketing and community relations for the association. Most Toytown importers sell wholesale to the public.

"It's cheaper by the dozen. The item costs more if you're just buying one," Brehm said.

Shoppers must be prepared to negotiate, she said.

In Toytown, prices aren't carved in cement. They're more likely to be penciled in on cardboard.

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