BY DENNIS McCARTHY, Columnist LA Daily News
Maury and Arlene King came back from lunch one day in 1946 and saw their retail future flash right before their eyes.
It wasn't selling barbells and tennis rackets like they thought. It was peddling saddles and blue jeans to a young, growing, still rural San Fernando Valley.
"The only thing that had sold while they were at lunch that day was a saddle," says Randy King, Maury and Arlene's son.
"That's when Mom and Dad realized they could sell more horse tack in the Valley than dumbbells."
King's Sporting Goods and Riding Shop in Van Nuys became strictly King's Riding Shop, and later King's Western Wear. It moved from Van Nuys after 50 years to Studio City in 1996.
And now, after 61 years in business, "it's time to ride off into the sunset," Randy was saying Wednesday - half laughing, half cringing at the old cowboy pun.
The long customer lines that used to snake down Van Nuys Boulevard for the King's Western Wear holiday sale the day after Thanksgiving haven't been long and snaking for years now.
The studios that spent a lot of money at King's buying Western clothes for TV shows such as "Dallas" and "The Dukes of Hazzard" are getting them straight from manufacturers for product placement now.
They're still selling a lot of blue jeans and boots, but not enough to keep a business this size open, Randy says.
So when the last piece of merchandise and all the fixtures are sold - probably by late November or early December - it's last call for King's Western Wear at 11450 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City.
"The day we told people we were closing and kicked off our last sale, all I did was cry," says Arlene, who at 86 was still working in the store with her son until recently. Maury died in 1995.
"This was our baby, and it's very, very sad to say goodbye," she said.
But while the good times lasted, it was one heck of a ride, says Randy, who joined the family business after graduating from Birmingham High in 1977.
King's Western Wear attracted a who's who of Hollywood stars living in the Valley. Old movie cowboys Gene Autry and Randolph Scott were steady customers.
Bob Hope and James Cagney used to drop in every few weeks when they were in town. Actor Tom Selleck still comes in.
Up on the wall are head shots of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and actor Tom Cruise thanking all the employees of King's Western Wear.
Their store was also a trend-setter, Randy says. Long before other retailers selling Levi and Lee jeans got the idea, King's was sending 200 pairs of the rock-hard jeans to the laundry every week to be softened up.
"They came back soft and faded, and we began selling them like hot cakes," Randy says. "We had 2,500 pair on the shelves at one time.
"We sold to everybody from square dancers and weekend cowboys to bell-bottomed hippies in the '70s. It was great."
King's moved off Van Nuys Boulevard and onto Ventura Boulevard in 1996 to be nearer the studios and its customers, many of them living in or near Studio City.
But the handwriting was already on the wall, Randy says. Business - particularly cowboy business in the Valley - was slowing down.
Horse tack, saddles, bridles, bits and spurs weren't jumping off the shelves anymore. The store with the bucking bronco on top was barely hanging on.
"Times changed," Randy says. "Nothing we can do about that. It's time for us to go."
Before they do, Arlene and Randy want to say thank you to all their customers for the past 61 years.
"It's been an honor and a pleasure to be part of the growth of the San Fernando Valley," Arlene says.
But now it's time to ride off into the sunset.
Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.