It’s been some four weeks since the Staples office supply store on Wilshire Boulevard and 15th street closed its doors. I, a twice-a-week-photo-copy-center customer of the Santa Monica store, have been bereft. I drive down Wilshire to catch a sunset or a jog, and see the once familiar storefront denuded of the Staples lettering and logo; it makes me sad. That place, and those employees of that particular store, which I frequented for over a decade, felt like family. I, a lawyer, who in semi-retirement no longer had a legion of assistants to do my photocopy-biding, came to think of the Staples copy-center staff as my personal fleet of expert-graphic-designer-replicator-paralegals.

When I had heard in December just before Christmas that the store was closing, I had tried to start a save-the-store campaign. I reached out to Staples corporate headquarters and had people write letters but Staples Corporate in Framingham, Massachusetts never replied to a single one. The bright spot? Our Santa Monica Mayor, City Council members, and our Ed Foundation chief responded. I was proud that we, in Santa Monica, a beach city of some 90,000 people and covering just 8 eight-square miles have elected and appointed officials who reach out.

City Councilman Ted Winterer, who knows his way around real estate, put it to me straight. He was the one who first informed me that the Santa Monica Staples was being replaced by a Target store. Winterer told me, “I’m afraid there’s not much we can do. The landlord has exercised his private property rights replacing retail-with-retail so we at the city have no authority over the transition save for our approval of the exterior signs.” Our mayor, Kevin McKeown, related that he lives blocks from the store and frequented it often. He explained how the city had unsuccessfully tried to induce the Barnes & Noble bookstore to stay in the community. He and council member Greg Morena and Ed Foundation’s Linda Greenberg were supportive of the stay-in-Santa Monica-quest, and bemoaned the loss of Staples. But as the mayor aptly expounded, “corporate management does not seek the approval of the government to leave a place.”

Why Not West LA Staples, off Bundy?

It took me three weeks to try out the “other” Staples store, the one in our sister-town, West Los Angeles, by the freeway off Bundy and Olympic. Years ago, I had visited that store and never gone back. I could not recall why. I returned this week and now I remember.

I pulled into the Bundy Staples’ parking lot and saw it. The Staples store, which backs onto Armacost and Mississippi streets, is kitty-corner to a space-station-like metallic office park, a doggie spa-daycare, and a “gentlemen’s club.” It’s the latter that got in my craw.

After seeking out a box of staples for my actual Santa Monica store heavy-duty-stapler (autographed for me as a parting gift by the Staples employees at the copy center in Santa Monica), I sat in my car to take a good look at the frontage of the “men’s club.” I realized that I could see it from every spot in the Staples parking lot. There would be no way for me to make pretend that it was not there.

As the Staples West Los Angeles parking lot emptied after sundown, the activities at the club ramped up. Out came the velvet ropes and the doormen. The throbbing – of what sounded like amplified 80’s rock – emanated from the building. I could feel the vibrations in my car.

If I was going to make the Bundy Staples my personal “go-to” store, I needed to assess whether my personal prejudices were unjustified. I got out of my car.

It was dark on the street, and in my business suit and heels, I made it past the velvet ropes and entered not the club, but the club’s foyer. I faced a wall-sized photo of a blond woman with tousled hair, red lipstick, a ripped state of dishabille, and a “come hither” expression. Placards explaining gradations in pricing were on or affixed to almost every surface. The signage was in bold font: a single lap dance was priced at $40 per song, a five-song nude VIP dance cost $200, and a half-hour nude VIP dance was $600. There was a sign by the cash register warning against price gouging by the dancers. It stated that if any dancer quoted a price over the stated amount, the customer was directed to speak with the manager on duty.

I asked the doorman if I could, in fact, talk to the manager on duty. He said, “No.” I asked if I could buy a ticket for entry, he said “No.” I asked why. He said I was not their clientele. I pressed. He changed tack and stated there were no dancers in the place. I countered that I could barely hear him over the music coming from behind the doors so surely there were dancers inside. He insisted “no one was in there” and would not let me in. I left. I had been rebuffed but had learned what I needed. I would not return.

Nostalgia for the Old Days

It’s hard to imagine someone longing for their old office supply store, but I do. My brief interlude at the strip club had me pining for my old store. I thought back to Friday, February 7th, that last evening of Staples of Santa Monica’s commercial existence. Customers like me who regularly used the copy center and trekked in to buy construction paper, backpacks, and office supplies, came back that night to say goodbye. Customers, staff, and even staff who had moved onto other jobs years before returned to celebrate (some even with kids in tow) “the end.” They transformed one of the copy center’s tables into a resplendent cocktail party feast.

Other straggler customers, not knowing that the store was in its last moments, came in to buy office supplies, and when told of the imminent closure joined in the copy center festivities.

Many of the Staples Store Staff, are our Neighbors, & Live in Santa Monica

The place was full of staff who are members of our community. One Staples long-time worker Monica Gomez, a single mother of three, who lives a five- minute walk from the store, was empathic and downcast as she told me, “this place was like a family; it’s hard to understand that we won’t be seeing each other here, in this way, anymore.”

The sentiment was echoed by former employee Saffiya Hasan, another Santa Monica mom, and a soon-to-be college graduate. She returned to the store, she told me, to be a part of the “last community memory at our Staples.”

There was a New Year’s Eve-type-vibe in the air at the store that night. I was honored that as the countdown-to-closing neared, Store Manager Derrick Bell permitted me to take the microphone.

I stood in the well of the copy center, mike in hand, and spoke to the staff. I thanked them for their professionalism and excellence. I recounted how I had personally witnessed Westside clientele being “so very Westside,” but that the copy center staff did not take the bait. I told how them how I had observed the Staples crew, without fail, handling those and other customers with finesse. I explained that the happenings at the store reminded me of a TV show from my childhood called “Cheers,” where everyone knew your name. I thanked them for always remembering my name.

I spent some 30 years of my life as a trial lawyer, but cannot recall ever bringing a jury to tears. It happened that night at Staples. It was not with a jury but with the employees. And when I concluded and announced that it was 9 o’clock and that the store was now closed, I was swarmed like a rock star. Some of the employees thanked me for my letter-writing campaign (many of the letters they had copied and kept). Current and former employees embraced, with some remaining customers joining in.

It was Staples Copy Center supervisor Sylvia Escalera, a mother of three, who announced that she refused to let the closure dampen her spirits. She related that she would turn the end of this job into an opportunity for the next. Exuding both grace and determination, she told me that she had enrolled in a health-worker-certification-program that would start later in the month.

The next morning, Saturday, February 8th, construction workers on a retractable ladder took down the Staples sign from its perch above the entrance door, letter-by-letter. The letters, half-human in size, were loaded onto a truck and driven away. The remaining fixtures and merchandise were unloaded later in the week as part of an online auction.

Driving west on Wilshire Boulevard at the old store site, only red shiny tile remains above the entrance. One can see just an imprint of where the big letters once were. Red is just the right color for the next tenant, Target. Goodbye Staples of Santa Monica and to the people who worked there. I personally thank you for your service, your kindness, and for the memories.

By: Julie A. Werner-Simon, is former federal prosecutor and constitutional law fellow at Southwestern Law School

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3 Comments

  1. And I’m still grieving as Are many others the loss of our Barnes and Noble as well as the other good bookstores we use to have.

    Also really miss Radio Shack on Wilshire. Very good and helpful staff – always.

  2. They have a great one right between rite aid and Ralph’s on sawtelle and national. I usually take the airport street, make a left on centinela, a right on national, and then turn left into the parking lot. Plenty of parking. Takes me maybe 10 minutes from Santa Monica college

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