But this little time capsule of Main Street USA sits right in L.A.’s backyard. Montrose, located just south of where the La Crescenta foothills begin to rise, is an unincorporated town served by Glendale’s schools and Police Department. But an aura of Norman Rockwell and fiercely loyal residents make it a unique community committed to keeping its retail district strictly mom and pop. “Everybody kind of knows each other,” said John Silvestro, a retiree who moved from Burbank 30 years ago. “They call it Mayberry.” Indeed, Montrose is the kind of place where the oldest coffee shop in town, called City Hall, has hooks for all its regulars’ coffee mugs, labeled by first name only. There are a few chain outlets on Honolulu Avenue, including several bank branches, a Quizno’s and a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. But all the other 200-plus businesses located there are individually owned, many dating back decades. MONTROSE – Sherry Galvan has been serving Bob Wilkins a banana muffin and diet Coke as a breakfast snack for so long that neither of them can remember exactly when he started hanging out at the Montrose Home Bakery and Sandwich Shop. The modest eatery is a central meeting place on the town’s main drag, Honolulu Avenue. Galvan has taken breakfast orders there for 19 years and Wilkins has lived in the town for nearly four decades. As Wilkins is fond of saying, things don’t change much in Montrose. Montrose may sound like a place located somewhere in the heartland – about 50 years ago. Faye’s ladies lingerie shop has been run by the same family for 55 years. Tom’s Toys, formerly called Uncle Tom’s Toys, has been part of the community for over 30 years, and still brings in regulars on Saturdays who call it Uncle Tom’s. Garo Anserlian, an Armenian who immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in 1979, has owned Executive Jewelers since 1984. His three sons grew up in the store, and the youngest, David, 12, has become a skilled salesman in his own right. Martian time? Fame found Executive Jewelers in 2004, when customers who also happened to be employees at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Lab in nearby La Ca ada Flintridge recruited Anserlian to build a watch that runs on Mars time. Apparently, engineers working on Mars rovers began showing up for work 39 minutes later every day, because Mars’ day is 39 minutes longer than Earth’s. The watchmaker was charged with making a timepiece that could run on Martian time, which he did. Anserlian and his store became the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary. The publicity didn’t change him, or Montrose. The biggest change he can name is the switching in recent years of the Montrose Farmers Market from Thursdays to Sundays. That connection to the past creates some interesting shopping experiences. Julian’s Dog Gone Cute, a pet-grooming shop on Ocean View Boulevard, is the former site of the town jail, and the jail cells are still there. “The waitresses at City Hall (coffee shop) used to carry meals over to the jail on the corner. It was very much like Mayberry in that sense,” said John Drayman, second-generation owner of Custom Photographic and president of the Montrose Shopping Park Association. Channeling Bedford Falls Drayman, who grew up in Montrose, is filled with stories about the town and loves sharing its lore. He remembers a dry cleaning shop that sounded a steam whistle up until the 1970s. Townspeople used to time their lunch hours by it, he said. There was the Montrose Fix-It shop, whose slogan read: “We can mend anything but a broken heart.” And Montrose once had a dance school that shared space with a church, which of course prohibited members from dancing. Drayman recalls Irv Elson, a shoe store owner, who greeted people not by name, but by shoe size. Montrose boasts one of the nation’s first Vietnam War memorials. “Montrose has grown and changed, but at heart it is the same quirky place where you can literally go and meet a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker,” he said. The community hasn’t stayed quaint on its own. That has taken an enormous amount of work. About five years ago, the general economic downturn left 18 storefronts empty along Honolulu Avenue. At that time, Drayman, one of Montrose’s biggest boosters and a contender in the Glendale City Council election, got involved with a program to help redevelop the Montrose shopping district. “I knew we needed businesses that were open day and night and an environment where people would come and shop and stay to eat.” Drayman said. The redevelopment committee solicited restaurants to join the retail mix, and now Montrose has an eclectic lineup of eateries. “If you had asked me if I would ever see three sushi restaurants in three blocks I would have said you’re crazy,” Drayman said. Back to the future The committee also lobbied the city of Glendale to support the return of Montrose’s historic 1924 streetlights, street repaving, and new signals. The city expanded parking, got a farmers market with pony rides, a petting zoo and bands, and began promoting its Arts & Crafts Festival, the third-largest in the state. The effort has driven foot traffic through the retail area and brought in young families and other new patrons. Montrose has had successful relationships with chain stores such as Baskin Robbins and Winchell’s Donuts in the past. But chains haven’t taken over. And what’s kept them at bay is Montrose residents themselves. “We had someone trying to buy a bunch of buildings and he was telling people he was planning to put in a bunch of chain stores,” said Drayman. “One thousand five hundred letters were fired off to the planning director and the local paper. People are intensely protective of Montrose.” Worries ahead That passion for maintaining a hometown, Main Street vibe could lead Montrose to a standoff. That’s because a lot of the businesses signed leases over the past five to 10 years that are beginning to expire. “There are a lot of nervous stores at the moment,” said Drayman. Jean Linington, a saleswoman at the children’s bookstore Once Upon A Time, said the store’s building on Honolulu was sold last year to a private investor who is not a Montrose resident. She said the bookstore owner is concerned the property owner might raise the rent to an unaffordable level. “It’s a threat to the store,” she said. If the same thing begins happening to a majority of stores, residents could eventually face a changing landscape. “Do we want to become a mini version of Old Town Pasadena, or stay a Main Street?” asked Drayman. “The majority want to stay a Main Street, but some want national chains. “The historic soda shop is now gone because they put in a Coldstone Creamery instead.” For now, the Starbucking of Montrose seems very far away. All you have to do is walk by the art deco storefront of Montrose Bowl or pass the gritty daytime darkness of Avignone’s Bar to feel like you’re on the set of a Frank Capra picture. “This is what retail was in America prior to malls,” Drayman said. With any luck, Montrose will remain a real-life time capsule. Barbara Correa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 713-3662. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!