L.A. Riots Remembered: How gangsters stepped in to protect an Echo Park shoe seller

As violence, fires and looting spread across the city during the riots of 1992,  Yong Kim and his family, who owned the Crown Shoes store in Echo Park, prepared for the worst.  They closed their Sunset Boulevard store and rented a U-Haul truck to move their merchandise to safety. Meanwhile, one of Kim’s brothers struck up a deal with local gang members, according to a post in the KCET Departures blog:

One of Kim’s brothers, minding the store while Kim relocated the merchandise, recruited gang members who were longtime patrons of the shop; each was offered a pair of sneakers in exchange for helping to protect the shop. “Their original intention I don’t think was to come protect,” Kim says. “[I think] they came down just for the heck of it. But then again, we all knew gangs, those guys shopped here, so they knew if they really did anything we could point [a] finger. So they took care of the place.”

That account was written in 2002 by Jeremy Rosenberg,  who recently returned to interview Kim, whose family has owned Crown Shoes for 27 years.  In the follow up interview, Kim said that it would be hard to trade sneakers for gang protection now since so many gang members have been pushed out of Echo Park by gentrification and rising rents:

“This gentrification, these landlords did what LAPD Gang Unit couldn’t do,” Kim says.

Somethings won’t change, however. Crown Shoes recently signed a long-term lease to stay in Echo Park.


  1. Just happened to have a conversation yesterday with my neighbor who has lived here for 40+ years. He said the riots never made it to EP, nor was there even a threat. Sounds like those gangsters were pretty smart in making off with some free sneakers.

    • According to my recollection — I was 11 during the riots — there was no looting in Echo Park, because first ExP protected various establishments, most notably the Pioneer market, then Dodger Stadium provided the operating base for the National Guard. I remember a guardsman dangling his handgun out the window of his Humvee as he asked me for directions back to the stadium. With guys like that driving around, I would not have started any fires even if, in all my pre-pubescent angst, I’d wanted to.

      • The Payless shoe store was torn apart , so as someone whose been here 40 + years also , the riots INDEED made it here on a smaller scale.

        • I’ll never forget seeing the steel gates of the Echo Park Payless being methodically peeled loose by a determined team of 16-18 year old girls who saw their chance to finally get some decent shoes. Don’t forget how much of a distinction people made between chains like Payless which were fair game, versus actual neighborhood businesses.

  2. did i just read that correctly? is someone actually lamenting over the fact that there are fewer gang bangers in echo park? “they were gang bangers, sure…but with a heart of gold!” give me a fucking break.

  3. To generalize anyone, even so-called gangbangers, is a mistake. Spend some time researchign Homeboy Industries, learn about people before you judge. A lot of these guys are good , they just grew up in a bad situation, with no choice but to join gangs. We need to stop generalizing people and things and make educated choices before posting.

    • It’s always a choice to join a gang. According to your reasoning everyone who grows up in a bad situation in these neighborhoods would have “no choice but to join gangs”… I don’t think that’s the case…

  4. How uplifting.


  5. I heard it made it to Sunset Circuit City or at least people looted it. I was also told by long term residents, there were the best garage sales for weekends after the riots.


  6. Not exactly applied to this topic but generally there have been so many postings about gentrification/anti-gentrification, development/anti-development, high density/low density, traffic/quality of life etc. and despite how one falls on any one side of any of these arguments, I occurs to me that we are really lucky to live in such a dynamic place where the problem is balancing new paradigms with older established realities. I imagine readers in places like Cleveland, Buffalo, Tampa, Akron, Detroit et al are envious of our “challenges”. It’s a very interesting time to be here when you take a step back and I’m kind of excited to see where we end up 20-30-40 years hence. (and no my name is not Polly Anna!)

    • Best comment in weeks. Take one look at Detroit, Newark, Buffalo or any of a dozen other US cities and you’ll see blocks of empty, burnt out homes, lonely stretches of street with no people on them, and a population that’s falling by the thousands every year. I’ll take LA and all its “problems” any day!

  7. I cant tell if this story is about gang extortion or Crown Shoes signing a lease.

  8. I have been hit with a light bulb of inspiration!

    We must riot until the gang-baners are ready to strike another deal. Of course, so obvious now. “What is this deal Mr. Don?”. This is the question I am sure many of you are asking yourself at this very moment.

    We get THEM into the condo business. They focus on building condos, and then we can be left to the task of lamenting any change that happens to our “hood”. Fighting the gang activity (or using the energy necessary to remain in denial of it) simply takes up too much brain strength. We need all that extra brain strength we can get for outwitting the hipsters and gentrification artist! So…once we get the gang-bangers set up in the real-estate business, we won’t have to worry about them and can focus instead on fighting change.

    Who’s with me?

    • You’ve hit refresh 7 times only to get this reply.

      • Mrs. Face! So happy you are so attentive to my needs. Refreshed I am. I looked behind me but you must have gone out of the room. You have the face of a kitten but the tail of a donkey! You have pinned me.

  9. Gangsters? Really?? you people are pathetic..get your facts straight before opening your mouth…My Nephew was part of that group, the same group that were there to protect businesses and to make sure no harm was done to anyone…they were there to protect their Barrio, the very same Barrio that you “white people” now want to move into…I myself am in my mid 60’s, born and raised in “The Parqe”, as the hispanic fondly calls “Echo Park..Is your life so fucking miserable that you have to resort to labeling? turn around, look at your own family before you start with the name calling…..

    • Mr. Cat! Good for you. I too think white people are bad too and should not be moving around so much so that they move into “our” neighborhood. In fact, some of these most dishonorable “whities” (I have heard them called that!) are not just wanting to move into the barrio, but have already!! Some of them even before you were born! In fact scott street is named after a Dr. Scott, one of the very first residents of this part of Los Angeles, and this so called Dr. was none other than a white man!! I call him the “OGG” – that is of course for “original gangster gentrifier”. He was “slingin'” RX’s and “layin up” in his “crib” in 1904 according to the EP historical society. Wild style indeed.

    • Your nephew was a gangbanger back when the LA Riots were happening? Oh no, wait…… let me guess….. he was the one “innocent” kid who hung out and was friends with all the cholos, dressed and sounded like them but wasn’t actually in the “gang”. That’s right, there’s always one of those.


      And he was so dumb that he accepted a PAIR OF SHOES to protect someone else’s business? Willing to put his life on the line, defending a business he neither owned or profitted from during the time of a riot for a pair of Nike’s?!

      I don’t know whether to laugh or weep at my raza.

      Nope. I’ll laugh.


    • A gangbanger by any other name is still a gangbanger.

    • Cat, go yell at the store owners, they are the ones that called them gang bangers. What time will you be there to go bananas on them so I can record then upload to youtube for us all to see?

  10. A neighbor on Mt Washington told me he had gone out to the street to see if there were people about…and there was a small group of young men walking up the hill and checking out cars driving around. Wanted to know who he was, then told him to go back inside. Said, this is our home, we’re going to keep the outsiders out–don’t worry.
    Not certain who they were (he didn’t recognize them) but while I know Mt Wash was some distance away from the troubles, it was an interesting even, none the less.

  11. @ George: I’m not generalizing anyone. I’m going off what was printed in the article. Homeboy industries is a non profit set up specifically for self-identified gang bangers who want to reform. I personally have probably done more than most to better the community by working as a teacher in all three of the county juvenile halls. Nearly all of the students I’ve worked with had gang affiliations. I was the only father figure a lot of those boys ever had. The gang mentality is a curse and a plague on OUR community. It gives decent latino folks a bad name and it’s time to stop apologizing for gang related behavior. But then again what do I know? I’m just white guy who’s owned a home in echo park for the last 12 years.

  12. I still don’t get how people claim to be “pushed out” by gentrification. Los Angeles has rent control.

    • People leave an area by being pulled or pushed for various reasons. Pushed out buy landlords who decided to sell the house they were renting. Pulled by the desire for cash by selling the house their family owned for years. Make sense?

      • It does not completely make sense, no. I know that people living in single-family homes might have been bumped by rising rents (no rent control), but I also know that a good number of people left places that were under rent control. About half of the residents of the apartment complex where I lived in 2005-2007 left even though the rent never rose. The landlord offered them money, and they took it.

        As far as the people selling the home…as you say, they were pulled by money. So they contributed to what people call “gentrification”. In many cases, people moved to suburban homes in Riverside or San Bernardino counties.

        So I agree that a portion of those who left were “pushed out” (but then again, it was never their house to begin with) but a majority seem to have chosen to leave in exchange for a good chunk of cash.

        • As is their right!

        • ” The landlord offered them money, and they took it.” is an example of being pulled to move. They left for money, pulled out of the area by their own desire for a good chunk of change.
          These are just the facts not created by myself but by years of anthropological studies that go back thousands of years. Think of all the reasons anyone ever moves and they fit into either “pull” or “push” model, even yourself.

  13. henry…. they buy the houses…. duh! i lived in silver lake for a while… not one neighbor remains that lived there… all houses have been bought, flipped, and no some ultra cool twisty mustache people live there. It went from all hispanic and gay and artist to all megan a sarahs with a giant star bucks cup and their lame dogs

  14. Charming story. I mean it.
    As far as the whole gentrification thing goes… Change is scary.

  15. Kim has to open his eyes ( no pun intended) and look at all the gang graffiti, gang shootings and the other gang crime in the area.

  16. I remember well, Kim paid with shoes, Joe’s Auto Parts and Guadalupana Market, paid to the cholos, cash, they didn’t do it for free. Not because they were protecting the barrio, many business owners suffered assault, vandalism, etc. Sadly even the grandmas had to step down to the street, because they couldn’t use the sidewalk, because they were standing with their huge pants, combing their hair putting vaseline. There was one guy Rom Emler, who lived in the community, helped to clean up the graffity and help cholos to change their way for a better one, even before Centro Del Pueblo was established. There are many things have happened in Echo Park and not really soo good as – Cat says.
    o.k. not to change the subject, they did tried to riot the business on Sunset and Echo Park, but whey passed by in their cars, they saw they were going to deffend their business as Joe’s Auto Parts and Guadalupana did, was not only one day was approximately three days, not even the LAPD said anything, you can verify with the LA Times, you can see the photos and the story.

  17. Jeezy H Christy-Christ

    it’s nice to see a positive gang story.

  18. The Radio Shack on Rowena was looted as well as the Circuit City on Sunset.

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