Hollywood Store Owner No Longer Singing the Blues


Ziggy Cruse, Bob Blue and Larry Gilbert (Left to Right) are all smiles as they celebrate the victory over the City of Los Angeles and a developer to save Blue's Bernard Luggage Building from being taken through eminent domain.

The City of Los Angeles got a lot more than they bargained for when they tested the mettle of one shop owner at the corner of historic Hollywood and Vine.[1]  Robert Blue stood up to the greedy developers and City officials, and through his hard work, he is now able to keep what is rightfully his.

As Hollywood grows and changes, Blue’s luggage store will get to participate in that change—not be a long-forgotten memory of Old Hollywood.  But that was not always the case for this small business owner, who inherited the half-century old Bernard Luggage Building from his parents in 2002.

In 2001, the City looked into teaming up with a private developer to build a luxury hotel and high-end retail shops.  Blue’s property was smack-dab in the middle of the proposed “redevelopment,” and he responded to the threat right from the start.

“The main thing was that we did not take our time in dealing with this,” said Blue.  “We worked very long and hard to save the property, and that was the most important thing.”

Almost immediately, Blue contacted the Castle Coalition to see if there was anything he could do in order to save his property.  He followed the advice on the website and read through the “Eminent Domain Survival Guide.”

“The Survival Guide is totally recommended,” Blue added.  “And the best advice I can give to other people is that they should never ignore a single letter or warning.  They should do all they can to keep what is theirs.”

Blue and a number of other threatened home and small business owners also attended a regional Castle Coalition conference in Newport Beach, Calif., in April.  The conference was one of a number organized by the Castle Coalition in response to the dreadful U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London to share with property owners strategies to stop eminent domain abuse from occurring in their own backyards.

Blue hung up the Castle Coalition’s “NOT FOR SALE” signs in his storefront window.  He continually wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers and generated his own publicity in order to raise awareness in the community about the abuse that was occurring right in their own City.

“The free conference was so professional and so well organized, and best of all, it helped me to network and to figure out a strategy that would help me defend my own property,” explained Blue.  “I have been to expensive business conferences that weren’t done nearly as well or as effective.”

He says that the things he learned and the support he got from the Castle Coalition were instrumental in the fight to keep his property—and win.

Of all the things he learned, Blue says that the tips for publicity and strategy were overall the most effective.  He was able to improve his communications with the press and with community members, and by staying on the firm message that his building was “Not For Sale,” the message was eventually delivered to the Los Angeles City Council and the development corporation.

But Blue says that he could never have saved his own property if it weren’t for the dedication and passion of his employees and fellow community members.  One employee in particular, Ziggy Kruse, had previously lost a job to eminent domain and was not prepared to lose another.

Described by Blue as a “super-fighter,” Kruse did everything from write letters, to appear on television and radio interviews, to design the now famous billboard that sat atop one of the Hollywood businesses. It read, “Murder on Vine Street: Eminent Domain Kills Small Business.”

“Employees are always forgotten when things like this happen,” said Blue as he proudly spoke of his super-fighting employee.  It is often the case that when cities and developers claim they are doing development for more revenue, they are inevitably kicking out the hard-working employees who have been working in those communities for many years. “They’re totally against the small people.”

Once the publicity grew and the community began to take notice, the City Council had no choice but to start negotiations with Blue.  He said it was “like shining a light on mice and watching them scatter.”

Finally, in September 2006, Bob Blue experienced a hard-earned victory:  the City decided to settle with Blue and allow him to keep his building safe from the government’s wrecking ball.[2]  The development company will simply have to build around the store, yet another example of development that occurs while respecting property rights.  At this point, Blue is looking at doing some of his own restorations to the building, which will be included along a row of other retail shops, and is even thinking of building a loft residence above the store.

When times get tough and it seems like land-hungry developers and greedy bureaucrats may get the better of some small business or family home in your neighborhood, just remember the story of Blue and his little “mom-and-pop” luggage store in Hollywood, Calif.

Just remember Robert Blue’s encouraging words:  “You can win.”

[1] Note: All quotations in this article are from a personal interview with Robert Blue, conducted by Melanie Harmon on October 17, 2006.

[2] Bob Pool, “Hollywood luggage shop won’t have to pack its bags,” Los Angeles Times, September 28, 2006.