by Mark Rago
On Tuesday April 10th, Ben & Jerry’s (owned by Unilever) opened on Ocean Front Walk. Other “National Chains” have popped up over the years like American Apparel and IT’SUGAR, but Ben & Jerry’s is the first with a name that people recognize from all over the world. The owners are Klaus and Shelle Moeller and they’ve been Venice residents for 8 years. They hired locals, they had the Venice Boys and Girls club give out free ice cream to celebrate their opening and they promised continued support for the community.
As many people know, Ben & Jerry’s used to be known as a fun, progressive, hippy company with wide social values. That is not the case anymore. In April 2000, Ben & Jerry’s sold the company to Anglo-Dutch multinational food giant Unilever – which is the largest consumer goods company in the world (measured by 2012 revenue) and is Europe’s seventh most valuable company. They essentially lost their mom-and-pop status when they sold to Unilever. Have no doubt, franchise business is indeed big corporate business. This is certainly a big issue, but this is not the alarming problem.
The Moeller’s decision to open directly next to long-standing Charly Temmel Ice Cream obviously does not sit well with most of the community. The community just dealt with the problems of Snapchat pushing out other mom-and-pop stores and now we see the first world-renown national franchise store open directly next to another ice-cream store that’s been there over 24 years. Really. Of all the places on the 1-mile stretch walkway. Sad and frustrating to say the least. However, that’s not the alarming problem either.
According to the Moeller’s fundraising webpage, www.wefunder.com/boardwalk, they raised $1,096,566 from over 526 investors. These investors are literally from all over the world and it’s a given that many of these investors that gave money to the Moeller’s have never even been to Venice before! THAT is the alarming problem! Think about it. They, correction WE, are basically allowing outsiders to change the identity of our town! They, correction WE, are allowing outsiders to change the face of the second biggest tourist attraction in California! Outsiders with money that don’t know and/or don’t care. That is not only an alarming problem – it’s a slap in the face to the Venice community and the City of Los Angeles.
It has to be recognized by the City of LA or the Venice Neighborhood Council or the California Coastal Commission or all of the above that Ocean Front Walk is NOT the Grove or Universal Studios and the walkway is a huge part of its charm and attraction and ultimately, its tourism. It should be advertised and promoted that we, the community of Venice, made a point to NOT allow national chains on the walkway – all of that is already right down the street in Santa Monica anyway – why would we want that here too? And that’s why most of us live here and love Venice as much as we do – because it’s NOT 3rd Street Promenade. Ocean Front Walk is the identity of Venice and no one in the community wants to see a Margaritaville next to a Nike store next to a Panda Express next to a Starbucks, but that will happen when it’s being taken over by developers who don’t care and investors who have never even been to Venice before, not to mention property owners that have recently approved the Venice BID.
These investors, at no fault of their own, have no clue about this either. There’s obviously nothing on www.wefunder.com/boardwalk page that mentions that there’s not one other recognizable franchise name on the 1-mile stretch walkway. Obviously, there’s no mention that their presence would be protested by the community. Unless they did diligent research, how would they know? They’re from all over the world, and sure some may live in LA or have visited for a couple days, seen it in a movie or are friends of friends of the Moeller’s etc., but guaranteed most of them didn’t even think about it. These are major details that have been omitted. It’s very fair to say that many of them would not have invested if they knew the finer details about the community, the people and character of Venice.
On a Facebook post Klaus Moeller said, “I am absolutely not a pro-franchise person having grown up in a tiny fishing village – but I do love Ben & Jerry’s and what they stand for and our ability to get involved in local charities that are close to our heart through their charity giving campaigns – that we believe will make a difference”. What a coincidence – that’s the same tactic Snapchat used. Kill these businesses over here and fuck over these people, and then just throw money over there to charities to show how nice and great we are! And obviously Klaus IS a pro-franchise person because he just opened the first ever giant national franchise name that the walkway has ever seen! Right next to another ice cream store that’s been there for over 24 years! And we all want the walkway to be cleaner and safer but opening franchise national chains up and down the walkway won’t alleviate that problem – just look at Hollywood & Highland!
It should be worn like a badge of honor, that we the people of Venice stand together and won’t allow outside investors and greedy developers to change the identity, heart and soul of our community which is Ocean Front Walk. We should let it be known that if you’re thinking of opening a franchise national chain on the walkway then look elsewhere, otherwise you’ll get resistance and literally no support from the entire community and you will be boycotted and picketed on a daily basis. People don’t come to Venice to go to a Ben & Jerry’s, a Nike Store or a Panda Express. They come to see what they don’t see anywhere else. It’s the character, spirit, history, people, local businesses and mom-and-pop shops that separate Venice from every other town and tourist attraction in the world. That’s what makes Venice special. That’s why we live here. And that’s why the character, sprit, history, people, local businesses and mom-and-pop shops must be protected and preserved. Enemies wipe out identities, history and treasures – we shouldn’t be doing it ourselves. Or even worse, allow outsiders who don’t know or don’t care to do it right in front of our very eyes. The opening of Ben & Jerry’s on Ocean Front Walk is a clear and conscious massive disrespect to the entire Venice community. Ocean Front Walk is NOT an office park or an artificial mall that you see in every other part of the country and that should be celebrated, advertised, protected, and honored.
by Mark Rago