Perched atop the banks of the Los Angeles River, adjacent to the entrance to the bike path on Fletcher Drive, at the border of Elysian Valley, Atwater Village, and Glassell Park, sits The Left Bank, a bright blue and yellow-colored family-owned vintage clothing and gift shop. Open for two years now, owner Jacqueline Goodman-Lean named her business after one of her favorite travel locales: the iconic Rive Gauche, or the left bank of the Seine River in Paris.
The location of The Left Bank comes from a rich familial tradition -- it was once a tool shop run by Goodman-Lean's paternal grandfather, Robert Goodman, for four decades. Originally opened in 1948, the tool shop was purchased in 1969 by Goodman, who has been a stalwart in the family ever since. While Goodman himself didn't graduate from high school, with the proceeds from his business he was able to put his three children through college; two attended USC and one went to UCLA.
While it is located in a semi-industrial thoroughfare lined with gas stations and auto body shops -- and lots of cement -- The Left Bank can be seen as a charming and whimsical oasis. Adjacent to the well-established shopping neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silverlake and Echo Park, patrons and passersby aren't sure what to expect when they enter the shop, "but the confusion generates interest," says owner Jacqueline Goodman-Lean.
Bubbly and ebullient, native Angeleno Goodman-Lean and her equally personable family co-owners, including her parents, sister, and grandparents (watch out, her Grandma's a hugger!), encourage customers, pedestrians, bicyclists -- anyone and everyone in the greater Los Angeles community -- to stop in and peruse the items artfully displayed at The Left Bank. Separated into four rooms, the shop features both women's and men's modern clothing, vintage and designer clothing, and accessories and gifts by local artisans, such as M. Greenwood jams and hand-carved succulent holders. There is also an art gallery featuring local artists. Currently on display is Silver Lake artist Nadia Reed.
The business model here is less concerned with profit, and more with making people feel good with "wearable and affordable" budget-conscious wares. There is a $5 clothing rack permanently displayed outside, and occasionally offers a $1-2 bin as well. Clothing left over is eventually donated to local charities, and a portion of all proceeds are donated to various charitable organizations, such as Friends of the L.A. River (FoLAR), Kids Reading to Succeed, L.A. Regional Food Bank, breast cancer awareness, among others. The Left Bank also donates to charities that their customers are passionate about, and are always taking recommendations. Goodman-Lean and family can often be seen offering snacks, drinks, and sometimes even bicycle patch kits to bicyclists and runners who pass by. "Anything to make people feel like this is their home in this area," she says.
One of Goodman-Lean's many goals for The Left Bank is to be a firm stakeholder in the ever-evolving community around the Los Angeles River, while maintaining a strong customer base. "As much as you want to elevate a community, you have to be a part of it and understand it too," she says. For the past two years The Left Bank has participated in the Frogtown Art Walk, and this year they held a Labor Day Community BBQ, inviting locals by posting signs around Fletcher Drive and around the River path. Next up is a private charity event to benefit a school in Africa, and they are also planning a holiday shopping event with festive eats, with dates to be announced soon on the store's Facebook page and Instagram.
When asked about the effects of neighborhood revitalization, Goodman-Lean, rather than seeing other stores as competition, sees it as an opportunity for the Los Angeles Riverfront areas to grow and expand. One of her goals is to "encourage small businesses to come in here and take a chance ... really getting in (the area) early and not being afraid to see ... encourage other businesses to create a community and a walkable city. I think that being from Los Angeles, that's the number one complaint of everything, and that's what Los Angeles lacks. We have the weather and the culture and the community and the jobs, but we don't have these walkable areas, public transportation, and these big walking streets -- that's where you find your community."
Goodman-Lean feels that the strong impact of traffic -- auto as well as foot and bike -- on Fletcher Drive makes this stretch a highly visible area that can be attractive to consumers and business owners alike. Cafecito Organico recently opened a roasting facility down the street where they host pop-up cafe events, and a restaurant just requested a permit to build across the street. "Once other businesses catch on and start giving people a reason to come and spend the day here, the river revitalization will breathe new life into the city," she says. "I hope to see people coming to restaurants with river views for dinner, or bringing their families to kayak on the weekends."
While the community along the Riverfront area evolves, there are some improvements Goodman-Lean would like to see. Additional parking, a quintessential L.A. conundrum, would make it easier to access for customers in vehicles. A left turn signal and lane are badly needed at Fletcher Drive and Ripple Street to help prevent accidents and traffic back-up during rush hour. She also would love to see more trash cans in the area to help with the littering and garbage issues, and a greater crack-down on graffiti.
Despite these challenges, Goodman-Lean is committed to improving the area and being at the forefront of the area's revitalization. Nearby residents, such as a colorful nearby resident who lives by the River who stopped in to say hello during our interview, often pitch in, and have even swept the street in front of the street and picked up trash. "We want neighbors and business owners to take pride in the community, and keep it clean together."
Goodman-Lean likes to think of naming the shop The Left Bank as an homage to the rich artistic and cultural history along banks of the Seine, and with community-enriching stores like such as this, the Los Angeles Riverfront has one more jewel to add to its ever-evolving crown.
The Left Bank is located at 2479 Fletcher Drive, Los Angeles; open Wednesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit the store during Small Business Saturday on November 29, Saturday after Thanksgiving. They will have a hot chocolate bar and cookies. A portion of the day's proceeds will be donated to L.A.-based charity Midnight Mission.
Photos: Alexis Stringfellow except where noted