In researching for this column, I came across a bit of golf trivia. I have almost zero interest in golf (unless you count ogling photos of Tigers’ mistresses). But my late father loved golf so here goes: the final round of the U.S. Open is always on Father’s Day Sunday. (I didn’t say funny trivia, just trivia.)
Apparently this custom began so that the fathers of the pros could see their sons in person. Now it’s become a holiday for husbands whose Father’s Day present from their wives is an uninterrupted three hours in front of the TV. (It beats another tie.)
In the late 1950s I used to caddy for my father, though at 13 I wasn’t much bigger than the bag. On Saturdays, often my dad would “chip” golf balls on our front lawn and I’d catch them with my baseball mitt. Forget “chip,” he’d whack them. I didn’t mind because, while I wasn’t exactly good at my chores (i.e. often forgetting to take the garbage cans to the curb), I was good with a glove.
In those days I bore a resemblance to the actor Tony Dow who played Wally on “Leave it to Beaver.” When cute neighborhood girls would walk by giggling, “Don’t make an error, Wally,” I felt like digging a hole in the grass to hide in.
But one plus to my father’s passion for golf was Father’s Day gift buying was foolproof. Anything related to golf, (balls, a book by Arnold Palmer, or a golf hat) was always a big hit. Many years later with my wife I didn’t have the same luck with anniversary presents, which is one reason she’s an ex-wife.
For 23 years, my father owned a men’s store in the West Adams district of Los Angeles. Even after two heart attacks forced him to sell the store my dad always had a soft spot for small businesses in the burgeoning world of corporations. (Today we might as well be called The United Corporations of America.) I didn’t inherit my father’s love of golf but I did inherit his fondness of mom and pop stores.
In Santa Monica the battle between the neighborhood and corporate store continues, although if it were a boxing match, they’d have long ago called it a corporate TKO. Take the newly remodeled Santa Monica Place. In addition to a large Nordstrom, it also features a 101,000-square-foot Bloomingdale’s. (It’s fashioned after the one in New York’s SoHo district. Apparently what a quaint, sleepy beach town needs is more New York influence.)
But I recently stumbled across a tiny enclave in Santa Monica’s sea of chain stores that reminded me of how Ocean Park was when I moved here in 1975. I’m referring to three mom and pop enterprises on Pico Boulevard at Third Street: Animal Kingdom, Vidiots and Flying Saucers Caffeine and Art.
Animal Kingdom is a charming pet and pet supply store which also provides grooming and doggie day care. It’s been under new ownership since last September. Donald Davis and Christine Najera-Davis run the store and apparently their 5-year-old daughter, Olivia, supervises.
The pets for sale at Animal Kingdom are reptiles, including pythons, turtles and Pacman frogs from South America. Donald and Christine are proudly connected to Santa Monica High’s Workability Program where kids with special needs are able to get much needed work experience. To the Davis’ delight, one of their kids just got accepted to UCLA.
Next door is Cathy Tauber and Patty Polinger’s Vidiots which L.A. Magazine rightfully calls “the best video store in L.A.” (Cathy and Patty met at age 3 at a nursery school on Robertson Boulevard!) Vidiots has thrived since 1985 and with good reason. They’ve got a remarkably knowledgeable staff, 40,000 titles and activities like Vidiots Annex Film Studies which is “like going to film school but without the homework.” Among the store’s many devoted fans (and in his case, a guest lecturer) is Academy Award winner Oliver Stone.
The last of the three is artist Ryan MacLeod Morris’ Flying Saucers Caffeine and Art which is a hip but relaxed art gallery and coffeehouse. (The UnStarbucks.) As a reviewer wrote, “Working remotely is about outlets, wi-fi and parking and Flying Saucers has all three in spades. It has friendly employees, humor (the extraterrestrial theme), amazing food, pastries and lots of tea and coffee selections.” (To preview the humor go to YouTube and type “Coffeehouse Cantina.”)
Every year as Father’s Day approaches, I find myself thinking about my dad. I’d like to imagine he’d have gotten a kick out of my recollection of his hitting the golf balls and me catching them in my mitt. He would have been impressed with the three mom and pop stores. If the fourth was a golf shop, he’d have been impressed even more.
Animal Kingdom is at www.animalkingdomsm.com., Vidiots is at www.vidiotsvideo.com and Flying Saucers is at www.flyingsaucersla.com. Jack can be reached at email@example.com, but please no “Dear Wally” e-mails.