Maria Bustillos

Photo by Jack Gould

Book collecting and thrift-store shopping came early to Maria Bustillos, whose native Long Beach was a mother lode of secondhand stores and home to the venerable Acres of Books. She was raised to be a voracious reader, thanks to the Playboys and Esquires she pored over as a girl in her father’s barbershop. “He’d been chief of detectives in Caracas,” she says, “but had to leave Venezuela after getting involved in some weird coup thing. He ended up marrying my mom, a nightclub dancer from Havana.”

In 1998, after years of designing jewelry and stylish housewares with friends for stores such as Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman, Bustillos teamed up with Oliver Corlett and Albert Johns to found, an online auction site specializing in rare books, vintage clothing, old records and period ephemera. Popula, which weathered the dot-com implosion, remains a boisterously fun, art swinger’s alternative to eBay and Bustillos is embarking on a new phase for Popula that will give collectors online access to experts on particular decades of the past. Her idea is to engage Internet surfers in conversations with scholars and authors so that buyers can understand the historical climate that produced Popula’s inventory. Bustillos, who is also president of the Independent Online Booksellers Association, is working on a book version of this new enterprise and hopes Popula can be a go-between in the world of collectors and cognoscenti.

“There are people who really know everything,” she says. “Our mission has always been to bring these people to their rightful places in the world.”

—Steven Mikulan

Suzanne Jett

Photo by Debra DiPaolo

Gloria Swanson immortalized Sunset Boulevard, Tom Petty serenaded Ventura, and now Western Avenue has Suzanne Jett. For the last year, Jett has run a performance space on Western and Gage Avenue in South Los Angeles that she recently christened the Urban Charm Club, a name she says she chose partly because she wanted to make the point that urban and charm are not mutually exclusive. Longtime residents are pleasantly surprised to discover that amid the auto-repair shops and storefront churches along Western is an improbably groovy space that is equal parts studio, theater and drop-in center: Sun filters through skylights; original art lines the walls; cool beats ranging from jazz to acid hip-hop provide a background score.

Jett, a tall woman with blondish dreads and a philosophical vibe, sees the club as key to a community renaissance she’s envisioned her whole life. She was born in Watts (one of her six siblings was volleyball great Flo Hyman, who died in 1986) and owned a Hollywood postproduction business for years before quitting to bring her considerable creative energies back home. In addition to live theater and music — standup comic Karen Williams gave an inaugural performance last month — the club offers modern dance and other classes aimed at involving local youth. The endeavor is not new for Jett, who ran an eponymous club in the ’80s on Manchester and Vermont that attracted an experimental CalArts crowd as well as Andy Kaufman and Paul Reubens. “I want to be the plop in the middle of a concentric circle,” explains Jett of her latest project. “We’re just adding another aspect of what’s already here.”

—Erin Aubry Kaplan


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