by Dylan Gronseth.
Nestled in the San Gabriel Valley about 45 minutes east of Los Angeles, Claremont is probably best known for a collection of well-respected schools, collectively known as the Claremont Colleges.
Within walking distance of the colleges, the Village boasts more than 150 shops, businesses and restaurants all located in downtown Claremont. Students on all budgets are able to walk, bike or drive to the Village to enjoy a movie theater, comedy club, record store and places to eat, shop and be entertained. In 2007, the city expanded the downtown area west of Indian Hill Boulevard. The area is informally known as the West Village.
“I really like going to cafes in the Village, for example, CK Café, which not a lot people know about, tucked away in a parking lot,” said Anna Turner, 19, a student at Pomona College. “They have really great teas.”
For some Pomona College students, such as Saahil Desai, 18, going to the Village is mainly an occasional dining experience.
“I’d say I like eating out there,” said Desai. “I go to Saca’s which is a Mediterranean restaurant and I like the Thai restaurant.”
The first and only store for many years in Claremont was the General Store, which opened on First and Yale avenues in 1888. That store is now Some Crust Bakery. As the city grew, more stores and businesses opened. The Claremont Feed and Fuel Store, a meat market and a cobbler’s shop were among them.
The Claremont Train Depot opened on First Street in 1927. The City Hall opened in 1925 and the Post Office followed in 1936. The building that now houses the 1950’s style diner, the Village Grille, was originally opened as a car dealership in 1920.
Rhino Records and Video Paradiso are both located on the corner of Yale and Bonita avenues. The building that houses the shops used to be Bentley’s Market until the late 1980s.
Rhino Records is an old fashioned record shop specializing in selling used and new CDs, vinyl, tapes, DVDs, books, magazines, shirts, posters, stickers, as well as many toys, trinkets and odds and ends. Video Paradiso is also a rarity, a small independent shop offering video rentals and sales of DVDs and Blu-rays.
One of the most positive things for surviving independent record stores like Rhino Records is the third Saturday of April every year, known as Record Store Day. That day, people are encouraged to go out and support their local indie record stores. Bands make special releases specifically for Record Store Day. Rhino does extremely well during these special days. The line at the store this year on Record Store Day wrapped all the way around the store and outside to Bonita Avenue.
If you were looking to spend a little of your cash at Rhino and Video Paradiso, there are many items you could buy on a limited budget. You could pick up a vinyl album from the 1990s indie rock band, Pavement, as well as a rare CD single by Nirvana at Rhino for about $25. Then you could stop into Video Paridiso and rent the animated film “The Nut Job,” the recent Will Farrell comedy “Anchorman 2,” and even pick up a classic season of The Simpsons on DVD, all for under $40.
The Press Restaurant is located on Harvard Avenue in the old Village. The Press opened its doors 17 years ago, according to General Manager Sarah Diaz.
“We honestly get an eclectic mix of customers from all over,” said Diaz. “Our main clientele is probably 25-35 years old, but at any moment you could see a 22-year-old sitting at a table next to 70-year-old, both enjoying the atmosphere equally.”
The Press offers up different types of entertainment Tuesdays through Sundays. It has trivia night, DJs from KSPC (the Claremont Colleges radio station), piano performances and bands of all kinds from many genres such as jazz, blues and indie rock.
According to Diaz, the nachos are the biggest seller and the most popular drink is the Bloody Mary, a house mix made with cucumber vodka. Diaz said that The Press is doing even better now thanks to the introduction of the West Village seven years ago.
“At first the West Village made us slightly apprehensive,” said Diaz. “We didn’t know what to expect, what types of businesses were going to be introduced and if we would be made obsolete.”
The creation of the West Village in 2007 gave birth to several new businesses in downtown Claremont. Among these are the Laemmle, Claremont’s first ever movie theater, Bua Thai, a reasonably priced Thai restaurant, Coffee Bean and, A Store Called Quest, a comic book shop. A strip of stores are located in a connected building structure known as the Packing House, which was really a packing house before the creation of the West Village. The packing house was originally opened in 1922 by the College Heights Orange and Lemon Association to process and pack fruit.
Diaz said that now the initial apprehensions are gone and the West Village has been positive for all of Claremont.
Among the new businesses in the Packing House is Flappers Comedy Club, which opened in March 2010.
“Flappers got its start thanks to two comedians, Barbara Holliday and Dave Ryans, who were hosting their own comedy competitions for about 15 years,” said Josh Snyder, promotions manager for Flappers. “They would host at different locations but didn’t have a club of their own, so they figured they should open one up. Originally it was going to be in Pomona, but that fell through. Then they were contacted by the Packing House in Claremont.”
“The Claremont Flappers is actually doing really well,” Snyder said. “We get national headlining comedians on an almost weekly basis, some people that tour all over the world.” Being well out of the way of the usual comedy spots in the L.A. area makes the Claremont Flappers unique and actually preferable for some comics.
“The comedians who work a lot in L.A. really enjoy performing at the Claremont location because it’s just a different vibe and a different audience than you would get in L.A.,” Snyder said. “L.A. you get a lot of industry people, a more judgmental and jaded crowd.”
Fridays and Saturdays are when Flappers has its bigger headlining shows, with a $20 charge to get in, along with a two-item minimum purchase of any food or drink. For amateurs and up-and-coming comics, there is an open mic night on Sundays at 9 p.m. Thursday night is the Pro Am show, which features new talent. Flappers tries to get a bigger headliner to close out those shows with about a 45- minute set.
Most comedians booked there are aimed for adult audiences. If you’re looking for a family-friendly show, there’s “Two Milk Minimum,” hosted by juggler/comedian Michael Rayner at 4:30 pm every Sunday.
Among the bigger names Flappers has had include Baby Boomer favorite Gabe Kaplan and Dana Carvey of Wayne’s World/Saturday Night Live fame, who is making his second appearance at the Claremont Flappers on Sunday, May 11.
A Shop Called Quest, primarily a comic book shop, is also in the West Village, located on Indian Hill Boulevard. The name is a play on the 1990s rap group A Tribe Called Quest, as well as a nod to the owner’s other comic shop in Redlands, Comic Quest, according to store manager Jason Harris.
“The store is actually doing really well so far,” said Harris. “We opened up in March of last year. The West Village made sense to open our store there because it’s right in the downtown and we figured we’d get a lot of foot traffic.”
Besides comics, the shop also sells art prints, a lot of apparel, vinyl toys, and, according to Harris, “a lot of different stuff you wouldn’t find at another store.”
Harris said that comic books are even more popular now than they were in previous decades and generations. He credited this to pop culture and movies and comics being handed down through the generations.
“Comics didn’t used to be that cool before the movies started coming around,” Harris said. “It was stereotyped, and still is to some degree, as a nerd or little kid thing. On a mass scale I’d say comics are more popular now.”
“The West Village has definitely brought more customers to the area as a whole,” Press manager Sarah Diaz said. “Claremont has become a sort of destination town with lots of original shops and restaurants and a culture that is unique to this town.”