As you may know, I'm an OG Valley Girl; I grew up in the San Fernando Valley (and no, no one calls it the "SFV") and find myself fighting a constant battle between my Valley pride and shame, emotions that I believe I share with many of my geographically challenged compatriots. To be clear, I'm usually proud of my Valley upbringing. I still believe it was a lovely place to grow up as a child. I still believe that despite popular opinion, it's pretty central (but thank you to everyone who, upon learning I'm from the Valley, responds "where is that? Omg isn't that, like, sooooo far away?"). I take pride in so many of the treasures that the Valley does hold: a bastion of some of the best hole-in-the wall strip mall sushi joints in the city, more affordable real estate, and now home to Hogwarts (Universal City is part of The Valley). WE HAVE FUCKING HOGWARTS. Beat that, the rest of LA!
But still, I often feel slightly embarrassed about the Valley itself, leading me to utter such statements as "well I'm trying to move to the Westside, but you know how rent is right now..." or "honestly, it's not that bad!" Undoubtedly, this tendency is induced by outside pressures. By the constant degradation of the area in movies and television-- I still cringe at the episode of Sex & The City in which the ladies go to LA and find themselves in some broken-down crack-den of a driveway in The Valley trying to buy fake Fendis out of the trunk of a car, only to be chased away by a rapid dog. By the snarky headlines from pretentious LA-focused websites that, in the same breath, can declare Skid Row as The Next Hot Neighborhood while simultaneously suggesting that a vegan restaurant in Tarzana is a preposterous idea. And by the LA transplants, who after moving from someplace like Iowa a mere two months ago and living in some sad shoe box in East Hollywood, have the audacity to smirk at me when I tell them I live in The Valley. I'll gladly take my hillside views and extra square-footage, thank you very much.
While all of this Valley shaming may seem like harmless fun, there are actual, real-world consequences that perpetuate this cycle of uncool. Namely, it keeps important businesses from opening in The Valley, and when they do, it keeps Valley dwellers from supporting these important businesses. To be fair, it's completely understandable when a business decides to open in a place like Highland Park, where the rents are most likely cheaper and they get to be the leaders of that area's inevitable and subsequent gentrification. But considering the rents are most likely cheaper than on the Westside or Downtown, there must be something other than rent that keeps cool new businesses out. If the constant shaming of The Valley keeps perpetuating the idea that it is "uncool" or "gross" or the butt of all jokes, then it's no wonder why businesses looking to target trendy young Angelenos would want to stay away. The problem is that there is already a market built into the valley-- families, young couples, wealthy suburban types-- that has the finances and capacity to actually support these businesses, but they are underserved because of their geographical location.
Yet then why is it that when a cool new business actually makes the daring move to open in The Valley, many of them don't survive? In the last year, we've said goodbye to spots like The Fiscal Agent and The Gadarene Swine in Studio City, BatterFish in Encino, and Tipple & Brine in Sherman Oaks. Of course, restaurant closures happen all over the city; many are unexpected, and all very sad. But in The Valley, it's easy to point to those closures as proof of the inability for ambitious businesses to thrive here. I doubt that there simply aren't enough people to support such restaurants; instead, this might just be another result of The Valley's unfortunate reputation. Even Valley dwellers who love dining out at great restaurants feel discouraged from actually dining in The Valley, often schlepping to the West Side or Downtown for their date nights. And god forbid someone who doesn't live in the Valley would find themselves over the hill to check out one of these spots; the majority of my friends who don't live in the Valley proudly tell me that they haven't visited in years (unless they have to). The market exists, it's just being shamed into dining elsewhere because we're constantly being told that The Valley has nothing to offer. And unless you pay close attention to openings, you simply might not know that the city's hottest new restaurant is actually a few blocks away from your home in Studio City. I can't tell you how many people I know from the Valley who only eat at spots in West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice, and the like, admitting they never go out locally. Thus, the Valley's reputation is an endless cycle and self-fulfilling prophecy; as we continue to trash talk the area, we discourage great new businesses from opening there and from Valley dwellers to support these businesses when they do, creating a zero sum game in which change feels almost impossible. Still seem like harmless fun to you?
Luckily, we've seen recent openings like the ultra-trendy Alfred Coffee and McConnell's Ice Creams in Studio City, Scratch Bar and Claudine in Encino, and the upcoming Petit Trois in Sherman Oaks that might indicate the tide is turning. Chefs like Ludo Lefebvre and Philip Frankland Lee live in the Valley, see these problems, and are valiantly addressing them. Areas like Studio City and the new Village at Westfield's Topanga have become popular spots for some of the city's best franchises, like Blushington and Jet. Yet despite all these recent developments, the myth that The Valley sucks persists. So maybe we should all make a pact; try to have a bit more pride in the changing landscape of the San Fernando Valley, and think twice before you trash talk it. Because your words might just be hurting local businesses and this entire area's economy. Together, maybe we can change the narrative, allowing physical changes to actually stick.