Quirky West Adams landmark threatened

Image of the inside of an antique shop featuring colorful dresses and paintings.
Nick Metropolis Collectibles’ La Brea location — before it closed in 2019 — boasted famous clientele including Michael Jackson, Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Kimmel and Rick Ross. (Arantza Peña Popo | Daily Trojan)

The Nick Metropolis Collectible’s store sticks out like a colorful, chaotic thumb on its fresh location in West Adams. The pink exterior, with prophetic red phrases painted on its sides such as “Love, is King” would make any unsuspecting passerby take a peek. Well, that, and the hundreds of thousands of knick-knacks such as mannequins, furniture, fast food signs and giant letters that crowd the store’s adjacent lot.

If one decides to give into their curiosity, they’ll encounter a cacophonic array of tchotchkes crowding the quirky antique store. Amid the chaos and chirping of pet birds from a nearby cage, they might even encounter Nick Metropolis, a sunny salesman with red hair and a wardrobe of vibrant ducky shirts.

“I’m kind of all over the place with my personality and the way I text and stuff,” Metropolis said. “That’s just who I am. I’m just out there. People think I’m crazy, I always substitute the word ‘unique.’” 

The store’s beginning is just as eccentric as its owner. Metropolis moved from Rochester, N.Y. in the ’60s to pursue a career in music, with aspirations of becoming like Bob Dylan or the Beatles with his protest-adjacent music.

When that pursuit didn’t get him far, he started acting after actress Shelley Winters pushed him to pursue it and got him a full ride to the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. After a few stints, Metropolis became broke and began selling objects and furniture on the road. He gained popularity, and his store suddenly became a landmark for Hollywood tour buses.

After Metropolis earned enough to open a store near the corner of his DIY garage sale on the corner of La Brea, The Nick Metropolis Collectible store was born. 

“That was the best corner on all of La Brea. And I was in an alley, so 20 feet behind my desk we were feeding homeless Vietnam veterans,” Metropolis said. “Twenty feet in front of my desk, it’s Lana Del Rey and Miley Cyrus and the [movie] studios. So that 40-foot radius [was] every day of my life … the dark and the light side of that corner was my life for twenty-six years.”

Metropolis put every dime on the line, and it paid off. The store was a hit. It drew in set designers, movie studios, vintage aficionados and even a regular rotation of celebrity clientele including Michael Jackson, Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Kimmel and Rick Ross.

“Now, I’m close to some of those guys like Rick Ross,” Metropolis said. “Rick comes into the store with an entourage, eight or 10 guys, and they spend thousands of dollars and it’s always fun waiting on them. They come into the store and get stoned out and he’s just been really kind and generous over the years.” 

Unfortunately, rising rent prices forced the iconic La Brea location to close its doors in June 2019. After moving to its current location in West Adams later that month, Metropolis has ingrained himself within the local community, particularly among USC students.

However, the eccentric store is under threat of being shut down once more due to housing development. According to Los Angeles City Planning records, Tripalink, a leasing agency that rents to USC students in the area, submitted an application after buying the property in 2018 to construct a 10-unit condominium on the store’s property, demolishing the century-old building.

The Daily Trojan reached out to several staff members from Tripalink — including the project manager and regional manager for the construction project — however, they did not reply in time for publication.

“I think it’s disappointing, both the effect [the construction] would have from gentrification and in the loss of culture for that area … It’s such an important part of the community. [Metropolis] knows everybody. He talks to everybody,” said Tyler Sinness, a junior majoring in narrative studies. “And not only that, but his place would be replaced with one of these blocky apartment buildings cheaply made that are popping up everywhere and destroying the fabric of the community.”

Sinness and their friends stumbled upon the collectibles store one evening and spent 40 minutes after the store closed to revel in Metropolis’ stories and left with a two-dollar bill, which has the lettering “In God We Trust,” highlighted in yellow.

Ann Xu, a junior majoring in animation and digital arts, felt an especially rare, yet deep, sense of community in the store when she met Metropolis her freshman year after finding his place on Yelp.

“It’s just like L.A. feels really disconnected for the most part. I don’t feel ever connected to people in this city,” Xu said. “He’s so genuine and it makes me feel, this is a total stranger, a totally eerie little man and I kind of made a connection with him … He would recognize me and tell me the same story over and over again, it feels like my grandpa right in the middle of this chaotic city.”

Nicks Metropolis Collectible serves as a great equalizer — everything from a large hand statue to a 1920s gilded mirror to a large Clydesdale horse to Kanye West paintings to a grand piano is brought up at the same level, residing in the same cluttered room, with no hierarchy or discrimination.

When Los Angeles seems too sprawled and alienating, it can be revitalizing for others to conjoin in this eclectic amalgamation of belongings. Whether a Grammy Award Winning singer or random passerby, a coffee publicist or a millionaire amusement park scion, Metropolis said he greets them all with the same purpose — to learn their stories. 

“I love the furniture business and having really cool collectibles stuff, but I’m kind of over it. I’ve been doing it for 33 years because I’m a people person,” Metropolis said. “I like the stories of the people that come in. So when someone walks in the door, one of my friends thinks, ‘What are your kids or your students’ or ‘What do you do?’ ‘What’s your passion?’ And then, I said, ‘To hear people’s stories.’ That’s what I thrive on, telling my stories and also hearing other people’s stories.”

Sometimes his curiosity gets the best of him. He mentions an old manager from La Brea who would scoff at him for his tangential discussions.

“He was all about the money. So, if he came now and we were having this interview he would say ‘What are you doing? You’re in the furniture business. The landlord is going to be here, the rabbi, your rabbi landlord is going to be here in five minutes and you owe thousands of dollars and you’re BS-ing with these people’, you know, ‘cause I’m a storyteller, right?,” Metropolis said.

But Metropolis isn’t just in the business of stories — he also prioritizes the livelihood of the communities he resides in. While in his La Brea location, he would help unhoused individuals by allowing them into his store. He would also rescue dogs and foster them in the store until they found a home. 

“Early on, I saw what it was like for people needing to sell things. I would have people come saying, ‘Nick, I gotta pay my cellphone bill, can you buy this from me?’” Metropolis said. “So we used to help everyone there as much as we could.”

Now at his West Adams location, he leaves free food, clothing and children’s toys and books on a table outside his store for the local community. 

The local community appears to value his presence there, according to the West Adams Neighborhood Association, who provided a statement on the potential plans for development to the  Daily Trojan:

“We want this neighborhood to maintain its standards of family community and independent businesses that service the people within this community for years to come, we want to create an environment for small local businesses to thrive. This mass development threatens the family dynamic of this neighborhood from senior citizens to children.” 

Nick talks about this impending threat very matter-of-factly, with a lingering hope that everything will  work out during a virtual public hearing coming Oct. 13. There, community and council members will conjoin to speak their thoughts on the issue.

If things don’t work out, Metropolis said he will close the shop for good and go on to pursue more film work, like in his old acting days. 

“The hearing has a possibility of changing it, but I’m hoping that they won’t want to dig for about a year or at the most two years,” Metropolis said. “If I could get even one year, I’d be so grateful because I would get up off my butt and start promoting the film work, selling a lot of stuff.”

Metropolis also hopes to create a traveling furniture store in a truck, so he can drive around L.A. spreading his odd tchotchkes throughout the city.

“Pay as much as you can forward with your time, money sometimes just holding the door for somebody or a hug. All of that is paying love forward,” Metropolis said while holding his famous two-dollar bill in his hand with “PAY IT FORWARD” written in blue marker. “Love has infinite ways  to come from you.”