Thu. December 18, 2008
My family moved to Hermosa Beach in 1969. I was 7 years old, just
about the same age as the hippie movement.
The Hermosa Beach I grew up in was a place of tie-dye shirts,
psychedelic Volkswagen buses and peace symbols. When we rode our
bikes down Pier Avenue, we passed store windows displaying lots of
candles and many strangely shaped glass objects.
My friends and I knew these were "head" shops specializing in smoking
paraphernalia. The shop windows weren't the only places we saw this
stuff. It was not uncommon to visit a friend's house and notice his
or her parents' bong. Marijuana was so prevalent that we once found
some growing wild in our backyard. We called the police and they took
the stuff away without much investigation. It seemed more a
housekeeping issue than a criminal one.
It was a different time and a different town.
I know I'm romanticizing the past when I say I am a little nostalgic
for those laid-back days, but what else is the past good for? Sure,
there were people who wasted away much of their lives in weed, but it
wasn't so enticing that I couldn't make it to adulthood without
trying it. I didn't aspire to be a hippie, but I admired their
impractical mindset. Love may not be all you need, but it's a start.
If you want to imagine what Hermosa was like in those days, just look
at all the wine shops around town today. Now imagine these shops
selling everything you needed to enjoy wine -- glasses, corkscrews,
books on different grapes, even T-shirts espousing the wine-drinking
lifestyle -- but no actual wine.
The proliferation of head shops and hippie boutiques made Hermosa
Beach the place it was back then. Manhattan Beach had such wholesome
fare as Jo's Candy Cottage and Manhattan Toy and Variety (also called
"Mr. Johnny's"). Hermosa had head shops and places like The Colony,
an arts-and-crafts cooperative where hippies and those who identified
with them sold giant candles, pottery, macram/ and other groovy goods.
The Colony was located on Hermosa Avenue just north of Pier Avenue.
It is long gone, and soon so will be its counterpart just two blocks
south. Greeko's Sandals, the last landmark from those hippie days,
will close its doors Dec. 27.
Greeko's was established in 1966 by John Warren, a man who made
sandals in the Greek (as opposed to Roman) style, which is where the
store's name came from. Warren ran the shop for 25 years and became
so identified with the place that he didn't correct the many people
who called him John Greeko.
Greeko's handmade sandals were popular, but not so popular that they
could sustain the business for all those years. What I remember about
Greeko's from my youth was that it was different than the other head
shops because it was larger, and had an air of more traditional
commerce. It sold smoking paraphernalia, but also other clothing to
go along with the sandals and a great collection of rock 'n' roll posters.
When I heard Greeko's was closing, I went by to take a look at the
place, which I had not been in for at least 20 years. A
going-out-of-business sale was in full swing, with prices slashed on
everything -- sandals, rock T-shirts, black lights, incense, and, of
course, pipes and rolling papers.
I met the current owner, Steve Yerkes, who bought the business from
Warren in 1991. (Warren stills owns the building.) We talked in the
apartment above the store where he and his wife, Yoshika, live. As a
professional musician (playing the tuba) and a longtime entrepreneur,
he told me that he was an unlikely owner of a place like Greeko's.
"When I first walked in, I didn't know what to make of all the pipes
and such," Yerkes, 63, said. "I knew what it was all for, but I
figured I would be able to ease out of that side of the business. I
didn't realize how strong that current was."
Still, Yerkes did direct the current a little. He moved the smoke
shop -- which makes up two-thirds of Greeko's business -- into an
enclosed area in the back of the store to make the place more family-friendly.
He said that, despite having never been a hippie, he has enjoyed
operating Greeko's because of the customers. One of his biggest
surprises has been that they aren't a bunch of zonked-out stoners.
"They are just people who enjoy life and enjoy spending time with
their friends," he said."They are some of the nicest, most easygoing
and successful people I have ever known."
Those many longtime customers are sorry to see Greeko's go. "We have
second- and third-generation people coming in to say goodbye, and
they are sad," he said. But goodbye it must be. "The changing
demographics in Hermosa, and the way the town has become more
upscale, just can't support a place like this anymore," he said.
A small part of Greeko's will live on, though, at least for awhile.
For every pair of sandals and shoes sold in the shop's last days, a
second pair will be donated to needy families in Loreto, Mexico,
Hermosa Beach's sister city.
The sandals are very well-made, which means that, even with Greeko's
gone, its last customers can keep on trucking.
I'm always interested in hearing from you about how we're doing. I
can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com