More town & more gown: Uptown and Whittier College have plenty to offer each other

 More town & more gown: Uptown and Whittier College have plenty to offer each other

Sabrina Astengo & Caitlin Benge


Originally Published on POETINIS 

In Uptown, people of all ages can be seen walking along storefronts or sitting in the booths of the many restaurants. But, how many of them are Whittier College students? Only minutes from the Poets’ campus, Uptown Whittier and Whittier College have a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship. Uptown offers shopping, food, culture, and diversion within easy walking distance. The College offers 1,700 students, all potential customers for Uptown business.

One of these businesses is Melrose Vintage, located on Philadelphia Avenue just off Greenleaf. As you might guess, the boutique offers vintage clothing from the ’80s and ’90s at “moderate” prices, according to shoppers. Recently, Melrose Vintage moved off the main thoroughfare to a side street location that offered a lower rent and more room. This enables the proprietors, Robert and Esther Ruiz, to keep prices reasonable for young customers such as Whittier College students.

The Ruizes opened the store in 1992, when the couple were newlyweds with a mutual passion for vintage fashion. As for why they chose to locate in Uptown Whittier, Esther explained, “My husband grew up in Whittier, so it was important for us to give back to the community [by] doing something we love, which is buying and selling vintage clothing.”

As long-time small business owners in Uptown, the Ruizes have experienced the shifting environment both in Uptown Whittier and in college students’ relationship to their store and other small businesses. Esther says she keeps students in mind when pricing items.

However, students say they appreciate the affordable fashion. Second-year Madison Wells says, “I go all the time looking to find something specific, like a Grateful Dead band shirt, and even if they don’t have it that time, I walk out with something else. Their selection is super cute and the prices are really good.”

So many students at Whittier College find themselves inside Melrose Vintage because the location forces them past their storefront. Melrose’s one-of-a-kind pieces draw customers inside, and the friendly atmosphere and helpful employees keep them returning for more.

Just around the corner and down the street from Melrose, there is a new business that is forging close ties with Whittier College.

Lift Coffee Roasters brings a fresh and youthful vibe to Uptown. Lift employee Keanu Banayat says the coffee shop chose Uptown for its close proximity to the College. Lift appeals to many students who prefer to get their classwork and studying done outside of the library. The sound of soft music playing, the smell of coffee brewing, and the people around make a wonderful blend of white noise that Banayat says draws students to Lift. The uniqueness of small coffee shops adds to Lift’s appeal, says Banayat. “Students are over Starbucks,” he says. “It’s too popular and people want to go somewhere that feels personal to them.”

In order to draw more students in and promote itself, Lift holds a wide variety of events, including an open-mic night on Thursdays. The event begins at 5:00 p.m. with a first come, first serve sign up. Then, at 5:30 p.m., the acoustic music begins to play. By that time, the shop is packed with people, especially students, letting the music take them to some place free of the stress of relentless papers and tests.

Banayat, a student at Biola University, especially appreciates the open-mic night because it serves as a meet and greet for all the people in the shop. He says that after events like these, people have a tendency to walk out of Lift knowing at least one new person. He explains that these events are successful because it is a collaborative effort with the College (KPOET and QCTV have been involved) and students feel personally invited to participate. Whittier College, being a liberal arts school, is home to many creative students looking to share their talents. “Lift has the experience to do this really well,” said Banayat. 

Another small business enthusiastic about collaborations with Whittier College and its students is Local Fixture. Local Fixture sells trinkets and apparel that don the College’s name. Whittier College Professor of Theater and the Associate Dean of First Year Programs Gil Gonzalez has held events with Local Fixture and has had some success getting the small business and the students of Whittier College acquainted with each other.

Gonzalez has been teaching and directing theatre at Whittier College for 13 years, and throughout that time, he has either lived on campus or within a few minutes’ walk. He frequents Uptown “every day, if not, several times a week,” and has observed that some businesses are more willing to offer help than others.

Local Fixture collaborated with Gonzalez in planning an event to promote a theatre production with his company, Enceladus. “Local Fixture is very community-oriented, so they were quick to offer their help,” said Gonzalez. Together, they planned an hour-long cabaret night featuring members of his theatre company. The event sold out, but, more importantly, the night was a fun opportunity for students to showcase their talents and get more involved with the community.

Gonzalez says the opportunities for collaboration between the College and Uptown are many due to the close proximity and because small businesses tend to be more invested in their communities. In addition to the Enceladus Theatre Company, Whittier College’s own theatre department and many campus clubs advertise events by placing fliers in small businesses throughout Uptown. Local Fixture further cements its close ties to the College by employing students.

Gonzalez has noticed more stores in Uptown offering discounts and special deals to those who have student IDs. Mimo’s Cafe keeps its prices relatively low and welcomes student societies, clubs, and organizations to use the restaurant for fundraisers and events. Whittier Village Cinemas also has five-dollar movies on Tuesdays and Thursdays, drawing students to Uptown to catch a movie without breaking the bank.

A flurry of new business openings has also added to Uptown’s appeal, including Auntie’s, a café specializing in brunch on Greenleaf and Hadley. Auntie’s provides an aesthetically pleasing patio and outdoor seating complete with soft trendy music. Keeping up with the fad of boba, Uno Tea House opened in April 2015 and has maintained its popularity among young customers. Its low prices appeal to students, not to mention the totally Instagram-able look of their colorful drinks. With these new businesses and special events, such as a farmers’ market on Fridays and concerts in the park, perhaps students will see the appeal of nearby Uptown Whittier.

Melrose Vintage offers an abundance of clothing options for a multitude of styles, offering Whittier College students a unique place to shop. 

Melrose Vintage offers an abundance of clothing options for a multitude of styles, offering Whittier College students a unique place to shop. 

Lift Coffee offers a calm ambience during the day and good music at night during their open mic nights. 

Lift Coffee offers a calm ambience during the day and good music at night during their open mic nights.