In OnCentral's "South L.A. Snapshot" series, OnCentral provides you with a glimpse into the lives of everyday women and men in South Los Angeles. This time, we talked to local business employee Lynda Wilson, 57. Wilson is the operations manager for Box Brothers on Central Avenue, a family-owned packing, shipping and boxing company. We sat down with Wilson to talk about the odds of a small business being successful in South L.A., whether people always follow the lowest price and the billions – yes, billions – of trade dollars that flow through the southside every year.
What does Box Brothers do?
The parent company, Oday and Sons, LLC, was founded by my mother and two brothers. That's the holding company for Box Brothers Packing and Shipping. It's similar to what UPS and FedEx do, but we are authorized shippers, meaning that we have authorization to ship for FedEx, DHL and UPS. We're like the face of those institutions in our store. But Box Brothers' primary business is boxes and packing.
And why boxes?
It's recession-proof. If you lose your house, you're going to need a box to move out. If you're buying a house, you're going to need a box to move in. It's an easy sell. It's one of the main variables for commerce. Whether you're shipping locally or international, it has to go in some kind of container.
So yeah, boxes.
Business is increasing for us. We're growing, and it's getting better every day. Our target market was the international shipping market, and that has increased threefold since we opened in November.
This portion of South L.A. is in the middle of a 360-billion-dollars-a-year international trade zone. This area is designated [as such] because if you look at the warehousing industry, it started here. All of your produce, all of your wholesalers are within this area. Manufacturing and warehouses have always been within the Vernon-Central area. And the big distribution centers are here, and those products are coming from all over the world.
In general, what are the odds of a small business being successful in South L.A.?
It depends on the type of business and what their target market is. South L.A. in particular has always been comprised of family-owned businesses. Big chains wouldn't necessarily do well here. If you're a barbershop, if you're an auto parts store, if you're a boxing and shipping store, it's a local, consumer-driven market.
What happens when big chains enter a community like this?
It takes away the economic viability of a community when you have a big chain. If a Wal-Mart was supposed to come here, I wouldn't necessarily be affected because they don't sell boxes, but the party store next door might. You may find 10 party stores on the street, but that's where the local people go to buy. And if a Wal-Mart came in here, it would bleed those small businesses dry.
Is opening a business on the southside a considerable risk?
In the general sense, it's a risk. But I opened up because it was a need. I don't fear the community at all. Being a native, I understand the reasons for the unrest. Police brutality – a community can only take so much before you have an explosion. And with the history of the police department and the African-American communities and minority communities in general, at some point enough is enough.
You're talking about the '92 South Central riots.
Yes. Could a riot happen here again? Yes. Do I see it? No. Plus I'm insured. The neighborhood has changed since '92 in all respects: population, thought, better police relations. And South L.A. as a whole, it recovers. Recovery is not so much seeing buildings. That doesn't necessarily mean recovery. It's always a continuum. Like now it's not Rodney King on the 20th anniversary; it's Trayvon Martin. It's a young brother in Pasadena. So for us as African-Americans, it's a continuum. We never forget because we're still in it.
So back to your other question, I grew up here. I know the potential of dollars in this community. And whatever the media says may be one version, but I have another version.
What were you doing before you opened Box Brothers?
I spent 35 years as a legal secretary. After that, I traveled around, lived in Colorado and Washington, D.C.. I gained a lot of experience – my experience working in a law firm prepared me for running a business because I managed attorneys and their practice groups. I had to make sure correspondence was out and he was at appointments on time. I had to be up to speed on different cases. I had to run that office. So when you're managing someone else's business, i thought i could just do this on my own. If I'm running your business, why can't I run my own? I didn't want to be a 50-year-old secretary and I thought I could parlay the skills I learned in the office into running a business.
There's a certain kind of place where small businesses thrive, and they tend to be community-oriented. Is South L.A. there yet?
Yes. Because you have to service any community. South L.A. has always been community- and local business-oriented, and it's survived and thrived. I don't necessarily want to drive to the westside to go find a box. Why can't I find a box in my own neighborhood? Even though I like going to the farmers market on Sunset and Ivar, I prefer to go locally. We've always had local businesses in the neighborhood. Mr. Kim's grocery store was always down the street. Clay's barber shop was always around the corner. When you're in a community, you know what residents need. And you're fulfilling a need, so most of local businesses are service-oriented.
But times are tough, and local businesses can't always provide the lowest price like a huge corporation might be able to. So do people necessarily follow the lowest price?
It really depends on the individual and how you value your community. Will I pay a higher price in the community as opposed to going to Wal-Mart? It depends on the business; it depends what I'm buying. I think the community will pay a high price for the community.
Is South L.A. a particularly dangerous place to have a business?
No. I've lived over here all my life and I've never had one incident. I don't think it's dangerous. It depends on your perception and what your goal is and what you're focusing on – are you focusing on your goal or listening to someone tell you what not to do? Those are somebody's else views and perceptions. That may be their fear but not mine.
As you've said, you grew up in this area. Is there a certain sense of connection you feel with this place, especially now that you're running a business here?
As a family, we've come full circle. Coming back here just lets me know the community has survived. It's still here. It may not be thriving to other's expectations, but it's working for us. Opening a business back here from where we started, I think, is a testament and testimony to the ancestors in my family that paved the way almost 100 years ago. They started, and we're still here and keeping the legacy alive.
Box Brothers is located at 3320 South Central Avenue.