VAN NUYS, Calif.-Undoubtedly, the first thing you'll notice about Flip Smith is his shirt. Its vividly colored Hawaiian flowers shout ``laid back.''
So much so, it's hard to imagine this casual tire dealer-sitting in his office beneath a transplanted palm tree-is the man who rallied more than 300 business owners to win back their street from some of the Los Angeles area's worst riffraff.
It's not until Philip ``Flip''
Smith starts walking that you realize how he could win TIRE BUSINESS' Second Annual Tire Dealer Humanitarian Award, which honors the charitable and public service work of independent tire dealers and retreaders.
That's when you'll realize that his long, deceptively quick strides are leaving you behind.
``We're jammin','' you'll probably hear him say as you struggle to keep up.
Since the early 1980s, Mr. Smith has been intimately involved in his community, and-in many ways-he has defined it.
The crime watch programs, police fund-raisers and youth activities he has organized during the past 10 years have forged rare relationships in and around his Flip's Tire Center outlet, located on Sepulveda Boulevard in Van Nuys, Calif.
``Most importantly, Flip's initiatives have positively impacted the relationship between the residents, business people and police by building partnerships,'' the judges said in announcing Mr. Smith as the 1995 award recipient.
His relentless involvement in his community spans the course of about 12 years, but he has always been a tire dealer.
His grandfather moved from Akron to Santa Monica to open the General Tire store his father would later own. Busting tires there made him realize early in life what he wanted to do. As a teenager he would go into the hills at night and look down on the San Fernando Valley.
``I'm going to sell tires to every one of those lights,'' he would say.
His father's business went bankrupt in 1969, and Mr. Smith decided to go to work for Wiesner Tire in Van Nuys. Three years later he bought the Globe Tire location on Sepulveda Boulevard that he had been managing and turned it into Flip's Tire.
It wasn't until the early 1980s, Mr. Smith recalled, that he started immersing himself in the Van Nuys community. In 1981, he became a director of the Greater Van Nuys Area Chamber of Commerce. A few years later he was president of the local Rotary Club.
As he became more a part of the Van Nuys community, he became more upset with what was happening to it. Along with the rest of the property owners on Sepulveda Boulevard, Mr. Smith was watching his business district become overrun by gangs, thieves, drug dealers and prostitutes.
The police were overwhelmed.
Mr. Smith's store manager and longtime friend Bill Brixon has lived his entire life in Van Nuys, and said he, too, has seen it deteriorate ``like many other cities.'' And ``like many other residents,'' he is thinking about moving his family.
Mr. Smith, on the other hand, said he has no intention of moving his dealership. He just won't believe that he can't change the area for the better, Mr. Brixon said.
``That's his go word-`can't.' That's his cue to go change it into a `yes,'*'' Mr. Brixon said.
Mr. Smith took matters into his own hands and organized the Sepulveda Boulevard Business Watch-pulling together about 300 businesses along a seven-mile stretch of road to clean up and police their neighborhood.
``There used to be hookers right out there using that phone booth,'' said Flip's Tire employee Tom Shrum, while pointing just past the dealership's store front. ``You don't see them there now.''
Businesses along the street-even competing ones-grew to learn through Mr. Smith's monthly meetings that there are issues that can be dealt with together for everyone's benefit.
Now they pick up trash, clean curbs, paint over graffiti and watch each other's stores for suspicious characters.
They've had phone booths-which were used mainly by drug dealers-removed. And they've had run-down hotels where prostitutes set up shop closed down.
Mr. Smith's relationship with the police department goes even deeper than the business watch. He is president of the Mid Valley Police Council, a local group formed to ``support the performance and morale'' of the officers with the $100,000 it raises each year.
``Although he may not ride in a patrol car and be in on an investigation, he truly is a partner,'' said Capt. Richard Wemmer, commanding officer of the Van Nuys Area Los Angeles Police Department.
``He's one of those individuals that has all of the qualities that you look for or you admire in others,'' Mr. Wemmer said. ``He inspires others to do things because he makes people feel comfortable. He never seems to say `no' to anyone or anything.''
Mr. Smith also organizes activity days for children who are likely to one day be involved in gangs. By ``giving them something to do,'' he said, he hopes some will learn responsibility and kindness.
To that end, he continues to participate in fund-raising events for the Mid Valley YMCA, which will receive the $1,000 donation from TIRE BUSINESS that is part of the award.
``The work the YMCA does with children in the community is the most positive, direct effort to build our future leaders,'' Mr. Smith said. ``This money will help in after-school programs and youth sports.''