Photo by Brian Addison.
The conversation surrounding what Long Beach was, what it is, and what it could be is a complex one.
It has resulted in both jeers and cheers toward Mayor Robert Garcia’s leadership when it comes to housing and development. On one side, housing advocates are questioning why more affordable units aren’t being built while, on the other side, property owners and the affluent are applauding the construction of luxury high-rises with a very quick If-You-Can’t-Afford-It-Leave dismissal toward those decrying their lack of affordability.
It has resulted in a rent control battle that has brought property owners to take up arms against any form of it while renters face historically high rents and displacement.
It has become a discussion revolving around gentrification, solely pitted between those against and those that support it—with little discussion as to how to make gentrification a force of healing rather than eradication and displacement.
It has brought up complex, if not outright convoluted conversations about affordability, viability, cultural identity, and history.
And the story of Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, the daughter of the man who opened up Foreign Auto Specialist on 4th—just west of Walnut, right by the pocket park that is Miracle on 4th—is one that brings up an equally complex collection of issues.
“Our family closed up my dad’s auto repair shop in Long Beach today… Gonna emote about it, standby,” her first tweet read.
Her father’s shop, which opened in 1987, was the always brightly colored shop that would greet passersby, painted a popping, saturated yellow to “to catch the eye of a customer.” And while the shop isn’t closing due to a lack of business—the owners want to sell the building and have evicted everyone—she doesn’t begin with that.
Instead, she offers an intimate history of 4th Street.
During the 1980s and 90s, Long Beach was a different beast, Mohajer notes, a neighborhood “so sketchy” that her mother would have the children lay in the backseat of a car when visiting her father.
“I peeked,” she wrote. “That’s how I saw my first junkie, laying on a gutter with the needle still in his arm, glazed eyes skyward. He looked like Jesus.”
These stark, frank disclosures were paired with wonderfully communal, beautiful notes about a neighborhood that could always find a silver lining amongst the darkness.
“Most nights, my dad came home with stories and we’d get updates on neighborhood people,” Mohajer wrote. “The autistic man who lived nearby and would sweep the shop sidewalk obsessively. The family that ran the nearby Eash deli—gone too, sadly—whose pastrami was my first and my dad’s fave… His customers gave us so many Bibles and Christmas ornaments hoping to bring my dear sweet leftist father to the fold. There was the man we always called Almaniyeh, aka The German, a mechanic who was my dad’s nearest competitor yet they struck up a friendship over the years.”
These relationships cemented Foreign Auto Specialist as a what Mohajer described as a neighborhood fixture, where her father’s empathy—cutting costs on repairs, letting folks pay as they could, keeping the neighborhood a neighborhood—matched the quality of Kelvin Anderson Sr., former owner of the famed VIP Records shop.
When the 1992 riots seeped into Long Beach after igniting Los Angeles, many businesses were lost in the raged fray. But like Kelvin, Mohajer’s father—desperate to protect his business—watched as neighbors defended it for him, like those in Central Long Beach did for VIP Records.
Like Kelvin, Mohajer’s father was one of empathy, compassion, and love—and it ultimately garnered him respect and protection in return. However, life moves on and, in 2012, Mohajer’s father passed.
“[After his passing], I went to the shop to help run it,” Mohajer wrote. “I sucked at it. Mostly I would go there to sob hysterically, do the books and pay his mechanics. Every messy drawer you’d open would have photos of his family mixed in with auto part invoices, business cards…”
Her story is not unique or uncommon; it is one which has been heard and will continue to be heard as Long Beach alters at a pace and in a fashion that it has never experienced before.
“I don’t know what will happen there next,” she wrote. “We never owned the building and the owners want to sell now. I expect to drive by someday to see luxury condos or a Starbucks. But for now, so long Foreign Auto Specialist, the shop that gave me everything I ever had growing up.
To read her complete thread, click here.