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SMALL COOL 2ND PLACE: Wanna Buy a Watch? / West Hollywood, CA

A Timely Transition

With its latest move, this watch shop wound up in just the right place.

OWNER: Ken Jacobs | URL: wannabuyawatch.com | FOUNDED: 1978 | OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018 | EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time, 2 part-time | AREA: 1,400 square feet; 800 square-foot showroom | BUILDOUT COST: $150,000 | ONLINE PRESENCE: 835 Facebook likes, 17,700 Instagram followers, 4.8 stars with 20 Google reviews


KEN JACOBS didn’t want to relocate his business, Wanna Buy A Watch?, but he didn’t have a choice. “We had to move because the building we were in for 13 years had been bought and was being demolished,” he says. Yet in a twist worthy of the shop’s Hollywood location, another space was available seven doors up the street, “different landlord, a bigger space, lower rent”… but still on highly desirable Melrose Avenue. “Everything about it was good fortune,” he says.

The new location has echoes of WBAW?’s former home — especially the vintage Gruen clock and Nipper mascot outside, useful as both branding and landmarks — but the new space feels more comfortable for staff and customers alike. Working with June Robinson Scott of DWG Design Studio, Jacobs has essentially created a clubhouse for the growing ranks of vintage wristwatch enthusiasts.

Life is so much easier and the operation of the store so much better without me having to wear so many hats.

As soon as they enter, visitors see a comfy library lounge area with inviting furniture and stacks of watch-related books. Behind that, showcases feature the always-changing selection of timepieces that make WBAW? a destination shopping experience. High ceilings and LED up-lighting add additional warmth. The new digs are more functional than previous locations, too, with an open floor plan that makes the most of the available space, plus an additional work area behind the showroom that’s almost as big as the 800-square-foot storefront.

Of course, this wasn’t the first move for a business that began as an outgrowth of Jacobs’ passion for collecting. Trained as a clinical psychologist, Jacobs moved to Southern California for his internship and began frequenting the monthly Pasadena Rose Bowl flea market, where he met a seller of antique pocket watches. “I was fascinated and immediately saw the opportunity to take these uncommon, beautiful and functional objects to a better market,” he says. The attraction was personal, too; he figured a cool pocket watch would make better cocktail party conversation than his coin collection.

Jacobs got his start sharing a series of tiny shops on Melrose Avenue in the 1980s, when the street was becoming known for its retro and pop culture shopping. He also began buying and selling fine vintage wristwatches, though he hadn’t even worn a watch as a younger man. “What became compelling was the aesthetic of these 1930s and 1940s rose gold Gruen Curvexes and art deco design watches, these ’50s post-modern watches,” he recalls. “So it was really fashion driven.” Jacobs’ timing was impeccable then, just as it was when WBAW? needed a new storefront in 2018 when a bigger and better one happened to open up.  “I’m just tickled with the way it came out,” Jacobs says of the new space.

WBAW? employees like the changes, too. One employee who had to scurry to different stations around the old shop to fulfill his shipping, repair and customer service duties now has everything within arm’s reach. And although Jacobs has been hands-on with the watch business for decades, he’s pleased that a former employee, Mike Schmidt, returned to Los Angeles in time to take over managerial duties at the new location. “Life is so much easier and the operation of the store is so much better without me having to wear so many hats,” Jacobs says.

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The new living-room vibe plays to the fact that WBAW? has always been a gathering place for entertainment industry insiders — a few A-list celebrities, plus a large supporting cast of lesser-known celebs and behind-the-scenes players who recognize one another and hang out a while. “It’s a hoot to have all these people coming in,” says Jacobs. There’s no separate VIP area, but that doesn’t stop famous wristwatch devotees including Ellen DeGeneres, Jeff Goldblum and Fred Savage.

“Most of these people who come in, they’re not looking for privacy. They’re happy to engage, and it’s a fun place,” says Jacobs. Although the wood-and-leather décor has whiffs of whiskey bar and cigar lounge, still and sparkling water are the complimentary beverages of choice. “There’s always music,” adds Jacobs; store playlists vary from jazz to pop and soft rock, with a mix of familiar tunes and interesting curveballs that encourage people to linger, explore and discover.

Ken Jacobs describes Wanna Buy a Watch? as a “museum where you can buy things.” Vintage signage contributes to that classic vibe.

“Our store in some ways is like a museum of cool watches, but where you can handle them, try them on, compare, and ask lots of questions about them and see how good they look on you,” says Jacobs. “It’s like a museum where you can buy things.” And like any good museum, WBAW? has a low-key but visible security guard on hand to deter anyone hoping to walk off with a Rolex Submariner or a Breitling Navitimer. Security “is a huge expense,” Jacobs notes, “but one that gives us peace of mind to operate.”

With between 10 to 12 posts per week, Instagram is a major business driver for Wanna Buy A Watch? Even with great foot traffic and easy parking, “we could not be the store we are if we didn’t have a big online presence,” says Jacobs, who credits employee Brent Cicogna for encouraging the shop’s use of Instagram. The WBAW? website features full details and high-quality images of every watch in stock, and Instagram posts creatively showcase the timepieces most coveted by avid watch collectors. The shop was recently dubbed “L.A.’s Horological Epicenter” by leading watch blogger and influencer Ben Clymer of Hodinkee.com. “This vast world of watch enthusiasts want to come to Wanna Buy a Watch?” Jacobs says.

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Jacobs didn’t know when he started that vintage wristwatches would become the investment vehicles they are today, yet Wanna Buy A Watch? remains driven by the fun and fashion aspects that drew Jacobs into the watch trade in the first place.

“Whether you buy something or not, it’s a really cool place,” he says.

Judges’ Comments

Julie Ettinger: There is so much that I love about this store! I especially appreciate the consistent marketing. Nipper is the perfect piece that ties it all together. I love seeing Nipper in the logo, the marketing, the front door and even flashes of him in some of the videos. It’s a cozy and exciting space and seems to flow very nicely.

Julie Gotz: I love the cool vibe of the interior. The decor is interesting and funky (and cool!) and creates a fun atmosphere for shoppers.

Joel Hassler: I absolutely love the interior of this store. Very inviting and classic feel. I’d get on a plane tomorrow to go shop at Wanna Buy A Watch!

Barbara Ross-Innamorati: Ken has perfected the total customer experience. From his stylish and cozy interior, to his fantastic social media marketing. I loved the total vintage feel of his store including the vintage posters and wall clocks. His site is also one of the most informative and educational sites for vintage watches. It seems like the go-to place for an education on collecting vintage watches.

Hedda Schupak:What a unique store! I love the concept and the story behind it, and I love how well it fits into the whole Melrose vibe of vintage shopping. The interior of the store is perfectly suited to the concept. An industrial space or white Shaker cases would not have worked with this concept at all.

Eric Zuckerman: When well done, I love impactful statement pieces on a store’s exterior that become synonymous with not only the business, but the neighborhood as well. The Gruen neon clock and Nipper the dog seem to do that perfectly!

PHOTO GALLERY (19 IMAGES)

5 COOL THINGS ABOUT WANNA BUY A WATCH?

1Time to play. “We have a very civilized schedule,” says Jacobs. WBAW? is closed every Sunday and Monday, so all staff get two days off in a row — and the shop closes between Christmas and New Year’s so everyone can enjoy a break after the holidays. The year-round vibe is California chill, too. “We maintain a low pressure, non-commissioned sales environment, with good employee pay, work conditions and benefits that encourage a collaborative rather than competitive environment,” says Jacobs.

2 Good dog. The famous RCA dog Nipper is the WBAW? mascot, with a three-foot-tall version guarding the front door (and providing a photo op for real dogs and children in the neighborhood). Nipper imagery also figures in other store branding, including the WBAW? logo and seasonal banners that rotate outside the store.

3 Name game. Wanna Buy A Watch? is a cheeky play on the trench-coat-wearing watch salesman of pop culture lore. “We created a more benign connotation and have never regretted our choice,” says Jacobs. (When the shop took third place in INSTORE’s 2002 Cool Stores contest, one judge felt the name was insufficiently serious and suggested it be changed, but another said it was perfect.)

4 Luxe loo. Owner Ken Jacobs says WBAW? originally planned to discard a crystal chandelier left by the previous tenant, but they wound up using it as the centerpiece of a boudoir-style bathroom — just another way the shop is prepared to meet a customer’s every need.

5 A very good year. The WBAW? website has a search function featuring birth-year watches. And although 95 percent of the shop’s sales are of timepieces, the shop also stocks an interesting selection of vintage jewelry, including engagement rings.

Julie Fanselow is a writer, editor, coach, and dot-connector. She was the founding editor of SmartWork Media's magazine for eyecare professionals, INVISION.

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