LOS ANGELES — At the Alpine Village near Torrance, when store owner Michael Mueller sells a pair of shoes to a customer, he’s confident they’ll return.
“People know when they come in here, they get good quality, you know? That’s why they come back,” he said.
His parents opened Salamander Shoes in 1968, when the Alpine Village was established. Mueller says they sold shoes imported from Germany and other parts of Europe and he took over the store after his father died but his soon to be 84-year-old mom still helps out.
They’ve grown a loyal customer base since the early days.
“A lot of them have passed away, but we also got new clientele from them telling other people, their family members, kids, so it’s kind of a tradition they want to carry on,” he said.
For over five decades, the village served as a hub for German Americans, with stores selling a wide range of goods from Germany. So it came as a shock when Mueller learned it’s permanently closing at the end of this month.
“It’s the nice German village with German shops, restaurant at one time. Beautiful, biggest Oktoberfest in the country, beautiful market and café,” he said. “It means a lot. After 55 years, all of a sudden, you’re told you got to leave the premises and vacate within 30 days.”
Mueller, along with other store owners, received a notice that the property had been sold and all the store leases will on March 31.
Spectrum News reached out to a representative for the new management to find out plans for the property, which also hosted a swap meet that shut down in February, but did not receive a response.
The Alpine Village received a historical designation in 2020 for helping preserve German culture, but it only protects the building exteriors, not the businesses according to Adrian Fine with the Los Angeles Conservancy, which advocated for the landmark.
“It’s really the people, the businesses, the experience, that’s what makes Alpine Village… Alpine Village and makes it come alive,” he said. “When that’s gone, that’s really hard to understand this place and why it’s so special so we would like to see if there is some way to retain that in the future.”
Shopkeepers like Bruce Kish, who has co-owned Alpine Village Cosmetics with his wife Eleanor for 17 years, are saying goodbye to long-time customers, selling their products and packing up while dealing with the emotional toll.
“In our personal lives, we have a loss because this place is disappearing as well as our day-to-day livelihood, of course, is now possibly going away or at least temporarily being disrupted,” he said. “So it’s kind of a big loss and a little bit of an emotional blow for both of us.”
Kish says they have an online store and may consider ramping it up in the coming weeks.
Mueller says he’s trying to sell as many shoes as possible while the deadline to vacate creeps closer.
“It’s going to end,” he said. “And move on. Hopefully something better comes up for me and my family.”