Today is the last day that Emerson’s Locksmith Company is operating in the heart of West Hollywood’s Boystown after being in the neighborhood for a good 50 years. 5:30pm, July 3rd, marks the end of walk-in in-store services on the Santa Monica Boulevard location, before they make their move to the new location at 406 North La Cienega Boulevard, next door to the Trashy Lingerie.
Kevin Alpert, the son of owner Morrie Alpert, tells WEHO TIMES that the first day of in-store services at the new store on La Cienega will begin July 16. However, outside business and house calls will not be interrupted during the move in July.
“The move makes me sad,” said Kevin Alpert. “It kind of represents my childhood and growing up and visiting the store as a little kid with my mom and my sister. I’d be in West Hollywood for gay pride or Halloween and I’d walk by the store and be so proud that it was my dad’s business. It makes me sad that he has to move, but sometimes starting anew is a good thing and a new adventure. I think it’s great that we’re directly next to Trashy Lingerie. It’ll be kind of exciting to be in a new environment and I think it will open up several opportunities for my dad. Going from Boystown to Trashie Lingerie is pretty cool.”
We spoke to Morrie Alpert after we broke the news that the neighborhood locksmith was moving. In our exclusive interview below, Alpert reminisces on what West Hollywood was like 50 years ago during a time when Boystown attracted a rock-n-roll crowd, being gay was not as open or accepted as it is today, life was less hectic, and bars didn’t populate the entire Boystown strip.
When did you first open in West Hollywood?
I bought the shop in 1968 from Mr. Emerson. It was 12 years old at the time we bought it. We were across the street, part of where Rage is today. I’ve had this shop 50 years and we’ve been at this location 40 years. Where Bank of LA is, that used to be a drug store. Right next to the drug store was a big place called Pacific Saw and Supply. They sold tools and big saws. Mr. Emerson knew the owners. He had actual chicken wire in 16×29. And I mean chicken wire. They had a door and everything else was chicken wire. And when we bought it, that’s what it was. When I first started, I took 50 dollars a week as a draw. When you’re married and have a family that was a struggle. I thank God my wife was working.
What kinds of things stand out for you working in the heart of Boystown for the past 50 years?
I remember right down the center, there was a railroad track. The railroad company had a contract that every 48 hours or so, they had an engine and a caboose go up and down the tracks to maintain it. They did it at night.
This place has changed tremendously. It was not as hectic as it is today. I’ve been in this location 40 years and I love West Hollywood to a degree, but this has become a bar city. I think there are too many bars. That’s a bar. This is a bar. You have a bar across the street. We have restaurants going up with a bar. The corner that used to be a bank is going to be a bar. You look down and everybody is serving alcohol. If I stay, I will be sandwiched between two bars when Bottega Louie opens next to me. There is no room in this city for a small business such as a locksmith. There used to be a shoe store across the street. Right around the corner there used to be a guy that repaired electrical stuff. It’s not around here anymore. It’s either a restaurant or a bar in this area and every once in a while, a clothing store. It’s changed. In a lot of ways, I don’t like it.
How have you survived this long?
I built my reputation doing quality work at a fair price and give the best service I can. I’m so busy now, I’m not taking jobs until a week away. I’ve got one person waiting who needs to get into their mailbox, and they’re going to wait another week. I have people come in and say, ‘if Emerson doesn’t have it, it’s not around’–especially the older stuff. If I don’t have it, or can’t do it, I recommend someone who can. I’m honest. I would want it done for me. Why wouldn’t do it for somebody else?
What other memories are you packing as you make the big move?
I remember the older times more than the new times. We had a fire here in 1980. It was a very devastating thing, physically and emotionally for me. But I believe God works in mysterious ways. After it was all over, I saw the positive in it. If you don’t, then you’re in trouble. There was smoke damage. It started at the pet store next door. All the animals died. They didn’t die from the fire, they died from the smoke. My landlady at the time–I’ve been very lucky with my landlords–they’ve been great, she came in and said, ‘Morrie don’t worry, we’ll rebuild.” After my fire, next door, where Koontz Hardware store’s parking lot is, the owner let me put an 8×16 trailer out there to run my business for six months. It was great. Then in ’82 or ’83, Koontz had a fire and they burned to the ground. They moved to the Factory temporarily after they had their fire. The owner, Russ at Koontz, is the nicest guy. I helped them. They helped me. You couldn’t meet a nicer guy.
What was the gay community like 40 years ago in this area?
It wasn’t as much as it is now. It wasn’t out in the open. That never bothered me. My son’s gay, I don’t know if you know that, but it never bothered me.
So working in a gay community, did that make it easier to accept your son for being gay?
My son is my son. I love my son no matter what–gay or straight, it does not matter. He realized who he was and what he wanted and that’s fine with me.
At what point did you notice a change and an acceptance towards gay people in vintage WeHo?
It was a gradual change. I was around way before gay pride. I think gay pride is like what, 25-30 years? We’ve been here for 50 years. Believe it or not, I’ve never been to pride festivities. We close during gay pride and Halloween, because it’s total chaos and nobody is going to come in for a locksmith. I can’t get my trucks in an out.
So why are you moving out of Boystown?
OK…my landlords, who are great-great people–absolutely fantastic. When they bought the building, which they bought from here all the way to the Mother Lode. When my lease was up, I thought the owners were going to raise my rent, but they came up and said to me, we’re not going to raise you; the only thing we’re going to raise is the triple net, which pays their taxes and all that. That was fine. She gave me a five year lease with a five year option, which I was very grateful for. That was five years ago, so now that five years have passed they told me that Beaches, Boutega Louie, the Mother Lode, and he owns the PUMP–they’re all putting a lot of money into his buildings to make them nice. I’m not about to put that kind of money. They want me to improve the building. Everyone else is. What’s a locksmith going to do to improve the building? I’m sandwiched in. Then they had someone solicit this place and offered nearly twice my rent and I couldn’t afford that.
What will happen to this location?
I understand this is going to be a sushi restaurant. That’s what I heard, I don’t know how truthful that is. They’re going to gut this whole thing. Whatever is here, they’re going to have to put in millions to put new plumbing and all that.
What does the future look like for you in the new location?
I really don’t know. My five years are up and I’m moving. In a way it might be better. First of all with all the construction here, there is no parking. Most of the people that park around here are construction people. My customers come to me and parking is a pain in the neck for them. I used to get seven or eight calls a day, and now I’m lucky if I get four and that’s mainly because of the traffic and the parking. The new location has more parking. I may not have the same walk-by, but I hear the new location still has a lot of walk-by. My commercial accounts will follow me and there are residential people who will come over there as well.
Are you sad to be leaving this location?
Yes and no. I was at the beginning, but then I look around. The area is hectic. I’ve got 40 years of junk in this place. When I get it over there, I can sort it. Take my time. I have more room. I feel like a sardine here. I looked at one place and they didn’t want my type of business. Another place, the rent was too high, and then this new place came up, and I say, God works in mysterious ways. It’s going to be good. I’m hoping all my customers will follow me. I can’t force them to (laughs). I’m not far. I’m about three-quarters of a mile from here. It’s really easy to get to. I think–in fact I know, I’ll make out fine. That’s about it.
Emerson’s Locksmith Co. will continue to offer residential, commercial, industrial, panic Hardware, Medeco maximum key security, Master Key Systems, electronic access systems, combinations changed, and of course, they will also cut you a simple set of new keys.
It will also continue to service Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Century City, Cheviot Hills, Culver City, Hancock Park, Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, West L. A., Westwood and all surrounding areas, including Canyon communities from their new location.
To learn more about Emerson’s Locksmith Co., visit emersonslocksmith.com