Don Zuidema has a Dutch surname. He’s 65 (a very well put together five and 60), grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and attended university in College Park, Md., where he met his first partner, Michael McGinley.
I write “first,” because he’s been part of a triangle “since 1988.”
“I’ve heard it all,” Zuidema said plainly. “Thruplet … a triad, a threesome.”
The third man (not a reference to the 1950 noir thriller starring Orson Welles) is Alfredo Izaguirre.
Zuidema told me he is “fine” with me mentioning the trio “as long as it’s not salacious.”
“Do I look like I’m a salacious person?” I asked.
“No, but with all that’s been going on, who knows anymore?” he said, laughing. Was he referring to Trump … the flurry of sexual harassment allegations we as a nation have been absorbing lately?
“I think it may be more common than people know,” Zuidema added. “I find that it’s a part of who I am, and who we are.”
This trio, not only connected in life and love, is also a longstanding entrepreneurial partnership. For the past 34 years they have created and run LASC, the successful men’s clothing store on Santa Monica Boulevard right across the avenue from Starbucks and Trader Joe’s.
“We opened LASC in 1983,” Zuidema said, “where the PowerZone and Capitol Drugs are now. “Where we’re sitting [in LASC’s back office] used to be a surface parking lot…what was known as the Sports Connection.”
Zuidema said McGinley saw a market opportunity, “Mike said, ‘There’s nobody around here selling tank tops and t-shirts and workout shorts’…and it was the year before the LA Olympics. So we jumped at that, and were selling them like crazy.”
“My only regret, is in hindsight that I didn’t keep samples,” Zuidema said, noting that the 2028 games are coming. “With the vintage vibe that goes on…those [original designs] would be amazing to have in the store.”
An in-house brand of LASC swimwear arrived not long after, thanks to McGinley’s passion for swimming. “And when this development was built in ‘88 we moved into this space.”
But only a few years after the original location, which involved sharing a space with a balloon store (yeah, you read that right), they “opened our first bigger store that was right at the corner of Santa Monica and Robertson, which was the Starbucks, which is now Salt ‘N Straw ice cream,” Zuidema said.
They had that store for ten years until 1995. “There was really nobody at the time. International Male was down the street.”
“We thought we were bringing a Southern California vibe … t-shirts and fun casual things,” Zuidema said. Today, as many locals know, LASC has expanded to offering “a great pair of slacks or a nice pair of jeans and a shirt, or a sports coat or a jacket.”
For 20 years Zuidema, et al. lived in Nichols Canyon. But after selling their house, they made Palm Springs their primary home, living in the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood “probably three, four times a month.” And for the past three years they also have kept an apartment on Westmount Drive, close by.
LASC employs a hodge-podge team of about a dozen retail store associates, depending upon the season, and a couple of contractors in downtown LA, where McGinley designs his LASC-branded items. Most of those are also made in the U.S., Zuidema said.
Some readers may also recall the LASC satellite store that stood for five years at 8000 Sunset Blvd. at the corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset, right underneath the escalator so many fit and handsome men would ride coming and going from Crunch.
That’s a nice lead in to LASC’s marketing. Aside from using social media like Facebook and Instagram, in-person customer interaction via targeted partnerships are LASC’s key marketing strategy of choice.
“We do pop-up shops on the Atlantis cruises,” Zuidema said. “When people go back home after they’ve been onboard one of the ships,” he’s convinced they shop at his online store and knows that they walk in, too, saying, “I was on one of the cruises and wanted to come into the store when I was in LA.”
LASC is also “a fairly good-size sponsor for Varsity Gay League,” the athletic teams started by Will Hacker. “Now they have softball, golf, volleyball, dodgeball…an entire roster of different teams.”
Finally, let’s party! “For the past eight or nine years [mostly] we’ve done a rooftop party for both Gay Pride and Halloween,” Zuidema said. “That’s been an outstanding branding opportunity as well.
Most of LASC’s revenue comes from their WeHo “ground zero” store in the same building as 24 Hour Fitness, but they do have an online store, where Zuidema said, “we predominantly sell our LASC brand.”
What’s in a name? “[McGinley] was in South Africa,” Zuidema explained, “and he went to this very wonderful club that was called The Sporting Club.” Apparently the concept he saw proved inspirational and “he said let’s head it up with Los Angeles, so we denote where we’re located.”
The name soon became too wordy. “We realized the acronym ‘LASC’ is a lot cleaner and tighter.”
But also: “LA has a great appeal around the world. It’s similar to West Hollywood…a brand. People want to come to LA. We do get some international business online, and I think part of it is the tie with Los Angeles and Southern California.”
LASC has been in business a long time. What’s its secret to success?
“A few things,” Zuidema said. “One is just hard work. When it’s your own business you have to be willing, even if you don’t want to, to get up every day.”
“Another reason…is that we evolve.” The fashion industry, customer demographics and how we shop have all changed. Social media is influential.
“If we were doing today what we were doing 10, 15 years ago,” Zuidema said, “it probably wouldn’t work as well.”
He gives a lot of credit to Izaguirre. “He has a great sense of style…and of fashion…and of trends…what the consumer’s looking for here.”
All businesses face tremendous challenges. What have been LASC’s?
“The recession that hit in 2008 and 2009,” Zuidema said. Remembering that he felt helpless and had no control as a self-described “Type A” over the outcome, Zuidema added: “When people were losing jobs and losing homes and the economy was faltering, there were times when we went, ‘What can we do?’”
Today the challenge is “the online aspect of retail.”
“But it also provides an opportunity,” Zuidema said. “There is still a desire for most people, though they may shop online…they also want to come in and have an experience.” Zuidema sees it as his job “to provide a service and give them an opportunity to come in and touch and feel and try on.”
LASC’s success also invites challenges. “We see what’s going on,” he said, “with residential rents…and commercial rents are right up there, or above.”
As for change in the neighborhood over three decades, Zuidema said, “Back in the eighties [Santa Monica Boulevard] was railroad tracks down the middle. I don’t think people were drawn to West Hollywood.”
Today there are “wonderful places to dine, to drink.” “We have the whole Design District, everything with the PDC, all of the Sunset Strip.” The boulevard “has changed so much for the better.”
Zuidema acknowledged the good and the bad. “I know it’s made it difficult for a lot of younger individuals,” he said. “Ten, 20 years ago, it was a lot of young gay men who moved to WeHo because it was a safe, nurturing and fun environment. They’d be able to find a place to live and a job – and live in this great, tight community.”
It wasn’t easy for Zuidema to think of what surprises him, but finally he did.
“For a business that has been here, now over 30 years, to still have people go, ‘Gosh I’ve never been in your store and I live in the area’…or ‘I didn’t know you had all this different merchandise’” is a little maddening.
“We scratch our head going, ‘What haven’t we done to make people more aware of the fact that we are here and what we’ve done?’” Zuidema said.
Being a haven, having gone the distance, and influencing the locals are three things that bring Zuidema satisfaction.
“All of the young gay men who have come through the doors looking for a job that we’ve hired, they’ve said it sort of gave them a landing spot…if they just moved here. They developed an opportunity, or an environment, where they felt safe, where they felt they could work around other gay and gay-friendly individuals. I like to think that we’re…a little safety net for them.”
Then there’s the fact, he said, “that we did it … We started with a loan from my parents of $10,000. I remember a Saturday night when everybody was going to the clubs and bars. Mike and I are up there stringing wiring for the sound system and hammering stuff. There’s a self-satisfaction that we went from there to here.”
“But also back to the other thing. It’s the people. I can somehow have an impact on my community.”
As for the future of LASC, Zuidema is matter-of-fact. “I think we will just continue doing what we’re doing,” he said, “and doing it right.”
8592 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood 90069