03/05/2013 03:31 pm ET Updated May 05, 2013

Little Stores With Cute Names and Home Values

A funny thing happens when you set out to launch a website: you can guess at what's going to happen all you want, but in the end, you just have to get it up and running. Because when you finally launch, your site starts talking to you. I built my LA neighborhood and real estate site, LAhomeandstyle, because I'm a real estate agent and I love my city, and I love my friends -- and I wanted to turn the spotlight on the neighborhoods that I love. I thought that if my friends - who are, in my opinion, the real stars of LA -- were asked where they like to go and what they like to do in their neighborhoods, I would be helping home buyers make more informed decisions by giving a sense of place to the homes I was presenting. And in my own little way, I felt like, as opposed to complaining about the new sorry state of LA home marketing -- which I absolutely abhor -- that is, to participate in trivial celebrity house gossip by leaking items to what seems to be a evermore voracious celebrity real estate blogoshere. Or trying to raise my own profile by being on a staged real estate reality show on Bravo (no thank you). I felt that by building my own site and focusing on neighborhoods, in my mind I was bravely "drawing the line in the sand" against all this drivel. Not to mention, fighting against the tide of Zillow, Redfin, et al who were threatening to move in on my turf from very far away. Trust me, I know more about the LA housing market than someone at the Zillow headquarters in Seattle. Why should I let these "dot com real estate godzillas" have all the online fun?

Getting back to my original point, that your business starts to speak to you: I asked a few friends to be interviewed for my neighborhood spotlights and many of them kept saying the same thing, "When we get home to our neighborhood, we like to walk, not drive, to our local spots where they treat us right. And we don't ever want to leave." LA is a big city full of little neighborhoods, and the more neighborhoods you "get," the more of an Angeleno you become.

I grew up in an idyllic, small town called West Hartford, Connecticut. It has two shopping districts, each about the size of Los Angeles' Larchmont area and a small neighborhood with one central boulevard. People live their entire lives in West Hartford and are happy to do so. It's a strong community and I miss it. Everyone knows who you are. You could forget your wallet and rent a video from the video store, or bring home dinner for four by using your face as your currency.

We had a bookstore in our little town called The Bookworm. (Everything in this town has to have an adorable name, or it has absolutely no chance of survival.) It was a sliver of a store, and the people who worked there looked just as you'd imagine in navy turtlenecks with little whales on them and hand-knit sweaters. Every item in that store was hand-picked. Every book was a perfect specimen of its genre, including the books in the children's section. When I was a kid, my mom would drop me off at The Bookworm and leave to run errands, and that alone time I spent in that bookstore ignited a passion in me for reading and writing that never left.

And then Barnes and Noble came in and dropped a super-sized missile of a store literally right next door -- and the huge selection and the discounted prices made fools of us all. The entire town abandoned its beautiful Bookworm without a moment's hesitation, and the little shop went out of business. It's my opinion that because of this, the town of West Hartord took a tremendous hit that it never recovered from. Because a Barnes and Noble can't ignite a fire inside a kid like a Bookworm can. Stores like the Bookworm have no bad books... and they have free cookies. That's what it takes to stoke a fire. Free cookies.

Why am I telling you all this? Because my site is about homes, neighborhoods, and their value. A home's value is determined by its neighborhood. And a neighborhood's value is determined, in my study of it, in no small part by the little shopkeepers and the restaurants that are fighting every day with their bare hands to give each neighborhood its special character. Your local shopkeeper is battling against the huge marketing budgets of larger corporations in their businesses, just like I'm in a fight against Zillow, Redfin, and the rest of those conglomerates run from far away.

Think about it: if LA's Larchmont loses Chevalier's Books, its independent bookstore, that's a tragedy. Because the next generation of kids who grow up around Larchmont, who know it like the back of their hand, aren't getting dropped off at a little shop that cares about them and will nurture them the way Chevalier's has for generations.

It is these independent, family-run spots that keep neighborhoods unique, and thus, increase their neighborhood's home values. It's the shopkeepers who can help you pick out some clothes if that's not your forte (me). The restaurants where they've been making amazing food from carefully-guarded recipes for generations. The little bookstores that have a children's reading area. These are the people who, in the unlikely event you forget your wallet, will let you use your word as your currency so you can still get dinner home to your family. Try doing that at a Chipotle.