The former Mail Boxes, Etc. owner made many friends in his 22 years in Malibu.
By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times
More than 30 friends, family and coworkers gathered at Malibu Bluffs Park Saturday afternoon to honor former Mail Boxes, Etc. owner Howard Spanier, who left Malibu last year after more than two decades of running his small business here.
The picnic was reminiscent of the final scene of the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when James Stewart’s character hosts a receiving line of friends who remind him what he has meant to them throughout the years. It was clear that those assembled viewed Spanier as much more than a mail store operator.
“You’re one of the wonderful, kind human beings that once in a while people get to know,” one man told Spanier.
The soft spoken Spanier responded by saying, “It’s been 22 years of wonderful, wonderful people.”
Spanier, a native of Brooklyn, New York, first opened his store in Malibu in 1988 in a tiny office on Pacific Coast Highway near the Malibu Pier. It later moved to Malibu Colony Plaza, before escalating rent costs forced Spanier to sell his store. He continued working there as an employee until 2010, when he was let go because the owners could not afford his salary. Along the way, Spanier weathered fire damage in 2007 and an economic recession in 2009, all while donating to charitable causes and volunteering in civic groups. In 1995 he was honored as a Dolphin by The Malibu Times.
In attendance Saturday were several of the young people Spanier employed in his shop throughout the years. Pepperdine University School of Law graduate Christmas Brookens, who worked for Spanier from 2003 to 2004, credited Spanier with helping her become a lawyer. Brookens said she failed the bar exam the first time she took it, in part because she had to work full-time. Spanier paid Brookens not to work for two weeks while she studied for, and later passed, the exam a second time. Spanier also employed four young workers with special needs in part-time positions, carefully tailoring their responsibilities so they could work and make some money.
Malibu U.S. Post Office employees, led by Maria Ballesteros, hosted the picnic. Ballesteros said providing the food was the least they could do for Spanier, who brought a platter of food to postal workers every Christmas. Even though the post office was technically a competitor, Spanier said he developed close relationships with many of the people who worked there.
Several people at the picnic lamented that Spanier’s departure was symptomatic of the change in Malibu in recent years, where rising rent prices have forced many small business owners to close. Malibu resident Anne Payne appreciated the personal touch and sense of accountability she knew she could count on with Spanier.
“When you went in there… I knew that [a package] was going to be sent the best way and the fastest, and no problem,” Payne said.
Payne joked that she might travel to Woodland Hills, where Spanier now works for an office supply store, for her shipping needs just to bother Spanier.
Spanier, in addition to offering shipping, packing and office supplies at his store, notarized legal documents. Several longtime residents recalled the sight of Spanier working furiously on several tasks at once as marking a time in their lives.
“You remember that little shop you had [in 1988], and you were behind the counter trying to do everything?” asked one man.
“Yes, I remember,” Spanier said.