A new shopping center contrasts with the homespun charms of Los Angeles's Original Farmers Market

You couldn’t build the Farmers Market today. No researchwould ever suggest that the public would flock to a tightly packedgroup of food stands and souvenir shops, with nothing better forvisitors to sit on than green folding chairs that look likesomething bought secondhand from a community center. No investorswould finance a shopping destination whose biggest restaurant is apie shop and where national franchises are virtuallynonexistent.

Of course, those are the reasons why everyone loves it.

For years when I lived in the neighborhood, I used to take aweekly walk to Third Street and Fairfax Avenue. I went for thepeanut-butter shakes at Kokomo Cafe, the dark chocolate-coveredgraham crackers at Littlejohn’s English Toffee House, and the freshproduce from Charlie Lopez’s stand. The old-timers had facesstraight out of my family album, and the hipsters relaxed theirSaturday-night attitudes over Sunday-morning pancakes. It was thekind of place I hoped would never change.

But change has come to the L.A. Farmers Market this year withthe opening of the Grove, the adjacent upscale outdoor retailcomplex. Imagine a Beverly Hills mansion going in next to aCraftsman-era bungalow, and you’ll get some idea of thejuxtaposition.

On a recent visit, I enter via the market’s west patio and lookaround. The lines are still long at the Gumbo Pot. The east patiois busy too, its tables filled with the market’s cornucopia:doughnuts from Bob’s, falafel from Moishe’s, and corned beef fromMagee’s. Then, past Gate 15, I walk from the market’s soothingshadows into the brassy daylight of the Grove.

There, a living, breathing toy soldier stands before FAOSchwarz. Light jazz drifts over cobblestone walks as abrass-trimmed double-decker trolley driven by a bell-ringingconductor glides through this retail hybrid that’s partDisneyland’s Main Street, part Santa Monica’s Third StreetPromenade, and part Las Vegas Strip.

Which suits a lot of people just fine. “This is the cutestplace,” says one woman bearing bags from GapBody, one of four Gapfranchises found in the complex. Most of the other retail storesrepresented here can be found just about anyplace else, but theGrove’s versions tend to be destinations in their own right,especially the new Apple Computers store and the multilevel Barnes& Noble.

I poke around for a bit, wondering how long the Grove will rulethe retail roost before some other up-and-comer becomes L.A.’s newplace to be. Walking back into the Farmers Market, I stroll paststands of Betty Boop magnets and miniature personalized Californialicense plates for the tourists, and stacks of fresh tomatoes andears of corn for us locals. The places of the heart can never bereplaced.

L.A.’s two fresh faces

The beloved Farmers Market and new Grove shopping center areabout 2 miles north of I-10; exit at Fairfax Ave.

The Original Farmers Market is the place to go for fresh piesand produce: 6333 W. Third St.; www.farmersmarketla.comor (323) 933-9211.

The Grove is the most recent addition to L.A.’s collection ofupscale shopping centers: 189 Grove Dr.; www.thegrovela.com or (888)315-8883.

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