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He Started His Business When the Valley Was Mostly Farmland

The more things change, the more Burton Doling's stamp shop does not.

Businesses open, businesses close: It’s a shock to the system, but in the long run that flexibility has made America an economic powerhouse. Still, there’s something to be said for a business that has come and not gone, and that business is Burton Doling’s stamp shop, an incredibly stable rock in Sherman Oaks for 60 years.

Yes, 60. That stamp store at 4343 Van Nuys Blvd., just south of Ventura Boulevard near the outdoor falafel-eaters, has been around since 1951, the oldest store in the area. Doling, its owner and only employee ever, turns 90 next month.

Kids may not collect stamps like they used to, but this hobby isn’t dead. “Our industry is far from being in any kind of trouble financially,” Doling says. “I know of no other industry that has created as many millionaires who can do a business without any employees except themselves. All it takes is a lot of knowledge and a lot of learning. And you have to be nice to people if you’re in any kind of retail business.”

Doling was a sergeant in the Army during WWII, his wife a nurse. (And his mother, unusual for those days, attended college, at DePaul University in Chicago.) He opened up shop in downtown Los Angeles in 1947, and moved out to the Sherman Oaks store in 1951, paying $30 a month in rent.

“Many of the biggest stars in the movie industry were customers here,” he says, including Clark Gable.

Sixty years ago, he recalls, a lot of the Valley was farmland: “corn, cows and barns.” He remembers that the drive from DeSoto out to where Oak Park now is was a little gravel road.

Given all that, you’d expect him to reflect on how much things have changed. But this area, he says, particularly near Ventura Boulevard, is actually a lot like it always was. “Sherman Oaks has stayed reasonably nice,” he says.

When he set up shop, the restaurant now across the street from him, Fab’s, was a post office, serving all of Encino and Sherman Oaks. The building that’s now near Fab’s, where there’s a liquor store, was a parking lot for the post office trucks.

As for stamps, well, they’re often now bought online. But his store, open Tuesday through Saturday afternoons, hasn’t gone cyber. “I never had a computer,” he says, although he does have a cell phone for emergencies. “I don’t have anything to do with the Internet or anything like that.”

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