At first glance, the inside of clothing store on Tweedy Avenue looks like a vast plaid labyrinth, with wall upon wall covered with every bit of merchandise imaginable.
Upon closer inspection, however, you’ll see the layers of clothes draping the interior are really layers of history piled one on top of the other. It's a history that dates back all the way to 1928.
“We’re the birthplace of the West Coast hip-hop look,” explained owner Evan Greenspan with a smile. “Easy E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Cypress Hill…not on purpose, though. Things sort of just happened that way.”
If that weren’t remarkable enough, Greenspan’s has also outfitted the casts of such Hollywood films as “La Bamba,” “Mi Vida Loca,” and “Mi Familia.” And that’s not even taking into consideration the fact that Lady Gaga paid the shop a visit earlier this year.
Proudly calling itself the oldest family-owned and operated store west of Texas, the store has been serving South Gate — and the greater Los Angeles area — for over half a century, continuing a legacy that began all those years ago.
It was in 1928 when Alex and Eva Greenspan, Evan’s grandparents, set up their first department store, only back then, they were still calling Watts home. It would take an earthquake, a fire and another decade before the storefront on Tweedy would become the new permanent home of Greenspan’s.
“In those early days, South Gate was a very conservative, very Anglo place,” Evan explained. “It was the sort of place where you might not be able to get service based on the way you looked. But my father always said that we need to treat our clients like ladies or gentlemen no matter what, unless they give us a reason not to when they’re in the store.”
Under the guidance of Evan’s father, Edward, the store continued to flourish. His work ethic has helped sustain Greenspan's over the years, with management moving from Edward to Evan, and now involving the fourth generation with Evan's son Josh learning the ropes of the shop.
“There was a time, I’d say sometime in the mid ‘60s, where we started earning this reputation as being the ‘Mexican store,’ and in those days, it wasn’t being said as a compliment,” explained Evan. “There was a plain-clothes police officer parked across the street from our shop because apparently people were under the impression that we were bad for the neighborhood because of the type of clients we served.”
“Well, that car was out there for about a week,” he went on, “and eventually, the officer came in and told us, ‘You know, we’ve been getting calls from all over the city, but this corner is actually the safest corner in South Gate.’”
What made — and still makes — Greenspan’s so popular is its signature look. The Greenspan’s aesthetic draws from the meticulous tailoring and craftsmanship of ‘40s and ‘50s fashions. From custom-made shoes to feather-topped fedoras, from helping to bring the iconic Dickies brand to California to continuing a devotion to the highly coveted Pendleton shirts, Greenspan’s popularity has held up against the fashion rigors of time.
On any given day, it wouldn’t be at all unusual for new customers to be rubbing elbows with Greenspan’s veterans, those regular shoppers who have sampled the styles here and keep coming back for more.
"I used to come here when the [South Gate Assembly] plant was still up," one customer told Evan while browsing through a selection of blue and red Pendletons. "I'm glad to see it's still here and doing well. I'll definitely be coming back again."
Meanwhile, not far away, a young man from Hollywood wanders in asking for an update on the custom-tailored shirt he requested. Next to him, a family walks in asking for assistance in selecting a wool pea coat for their son.
"Do you have a hat to match this shirt?" someone asks before Evan's multitasking daughter, Shira, emerges from behind the register, ready to help. In an instant, a flurry of hats pop up out of nowhere. Another sale. Another happy customer.