The charming and slightly kooky area of Magnolia Park in Burbank is home to a host of oddity shops, curiosity counters and amazing vintage-esque boutiques. In one afternoon, an individual can purchase a vampire-slaying kit, a Feejee mermaid, a poodle skirt and a full-size replica of Mother from Psycho. Once a month on Friday night, more than a dozen food trucks line Magnolia Boulevard for Ladies & Gents Night Out, an event meant to boost local vendors and create community in the area. Young fathers in leather jackets with Misfits pins hold hands with moms sporting Bettie Page bangs as they take their kids to taco trucks and soak up the scene. In Los Angeles, this is a consistently fun (and free) way to end the week, familial bliss at its best.
Over the years, local merchants have worked tirelessly to promote their shops and eateries with events to help encourage foot traffic and to promote the ’hood as a whole. And it worked. Too well.
Landlords took notice of the curbside appeal the storekeepers worked hard to build and looked to exploit the potential of the bankable charm. And with that, rents began to rise. Sometimes double and triple their initial amounts.
Two of the area's most beloved shops, which invigorated the neighborhood with their high-profile events and fervent fan base, are already gone: Pinup Girl Boutique, which shuttered a couple of weeks ago, and Creature Features, which went a few weeks before that. The latter promises to reopen soon via its website, which states that the reason for the move was the rent hikes, which it calls “prohibitive.”
“My business and everyone else in the area are affected by this money gouging and greed,” says Del Howison, owner of the Gothic bookstore and gift shop Dark Delicacies. “If landlords continue to do so, they will just turn it into another place of non-personalized steel and glass that can be found anywhere. There will be no reason to come here.”
“Dark Delicacies is the only all horror and gift store in the United States,” Howison continues. 'We have been in Burbank for 24 years. We hold signings every week with actors, composers, artists, authors. … We also carry handmade items not found elsewhere.”
Del and his dark arts dispensary are just one of many unique shops (and unique shopkeepers) that make up the rogue’s gallery of off-the-wall boutiques in the area. “[They] even referred to this area at one point as the 'Monster Crawl' because of all the different but related shops, including Creature Features (now gone), Bearded Lady and Mystic Museum, Blast from the Past, Motion Picture FX and others,” he adds.
But Magnolia Park is more than the sum of the monster-themed wares and corset stores that line the streets.
Donna Ricci’s Whovian haven Geeky Teas & Games is another recent casualty of the rent hike. The tea shop recently hung a sign in front of its parking area announcing its impending move, a true loss to the area given all the outfit has to offer.
“Geeky Teas & Games is a loose-leaf tea shop, board game store and cat rescue. Yet we are even more than that. We are a third space, a community center people feel good about spending time in and making new friends,” Ricci says. “If we could have affordable rent that would allow growth … we would stay. It would only benefit the owners further because I could afford to put more money into this building and make it nicer, greener and safer.”
The Burbank resident wants to keep her business local but the rent hike makes it difficult. “We are still looking for a place,” she says. “We were going to move into where Pinup Girl Boutique just vacated until we found out that the $4,400 a month they were paying would jump to $8,600 a month without so much as a new paint job.”
In an effort to save the neighborhood, filmmaker Andrew Kasch created a six-minute rallying cry to share across social media for those who want to save the area. It features Howison, Ricci, Ashley Largey (owner of Darling Nikki hair salon), Blast From the Past owner Larry Ross, the people behind Bearded Lady and Mystic Museum, even film director Joe Dante.
“When I started learning what was happening in the area, I was shocked that most people in my own community didn’t even know about it,” Kasch says. “I felt like in order to get the word out, we needed to make something bite-sized for internet audiences and spark the fire so to speak.
“I’ve always been in love with Burbank, because it doesn’t feel like anywhere else. It has all the charms of a small-town suburb without the ticky-tacky conformism,” Kasch continues. “And above all, it’s a mecca for artist, nerds, authors and filmmakers, and that community spirit has kept me loving Los Angeles.”
“If Magnolia Park goes away … I might, too,” Ricci says. “The motivation to get out, talk to my neighbors, converge in a safe environment and support local business is what Magnolia Park does. It’s a centralized area of little judgment and big heart. I realize that change and growth are part of any community, but why does that always come to the detriment of the very people who created the appeal in the first place?”
If Howison’s Dark Delicacies is forced to vacate, its future does not look promising. “We’ll get out of brick-and-mortar stores. We’ll keep the corporation and the website,” Howison says somberly. “After a quarter of a century, to leave the town you’ve lived and worked in this entire time is traumatic.
“Burbank is like a small town surrounded by a big city, and Magnolia Park is a tight-knit community within that small town,” Howison continues. “People come from all over the world to enjoy the unique quality and odd shops that are located here and no place else.”
Can this unique and special shopping mecca be saved? Or will it become like Melrose Avenue, a shell of its former punk rock self, or worse like Sunset Junction, which replaced all the cool, small-owned businesses with boutiques selling $500 jeans and trendy juicing joints as it gentrified?
Kasch hopes Magnolia Park and those who love it can fight back, and that his video will spread the word and help mobilize the community and beyond. “Letters and petitions to the city help, and I know the residents are exploring a number of ideas, like rent control,” he says. “The biggest step is getting people informed and united.”
“Save Magnolia Park,” an open-forum event focused on brainstorming solutions to save this historic Burbank corridor, takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight at Geeky Teas & Games, 2120 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. More info here.