April 20, 2014

25 Years of Topanga Home Grown



25 Years of Topanga Home Grown

From left, store manager Lisa Zook and owners Leslie Carlson and Jane Hoover of Topanga Homegrown. After 25 years, the eclectic shop is thriving in the Canyon.

When Leslie Carlson and Jane Hoover sit down together to talk about the business they own together, it can turn into a laugh fest as they reminisce about the foibles and fun of reviving and running Topanga Home Grown.

As the belly laughs subside, Leslie wipes tears from her eyes. The Topanga Home Grown of 1988 is a distant memory of what the shop is now. The original Topanga Home Grown was in a boxcar alongside what is now the parking lot of Abuelita’s restaurant.

We may never know the mystery of how boxcars ended up in Topanga but when Steve and Leslie Carlson bought the property that is now Pine Tree Circle, there was a boxcar sitting on it.

“We owned 23 acres on that property where we built Willows restaurant [now Abuelita’s Mexican restaurant],” says Leslie. “We found that if we opened a farm stand it would be grandfathered in, so my husband, Steve, moved the boxcar and built a deck around it. We opened Topanga Home Grown in May 1988, and sold honey, eggs, produce from our garden and crafts by local artists.”

In 1996, they needed parking for the restaurant, closed Topanga Homegrown and moved the boxcar out of Topanga.

At that time, Jane Hoover had been managing Sara’s, a clothing store in Santa Monica, for 14 years when Leslie asked her if she wanted to open a store together in Topanga.

The rest, as they say, is history. Topanga Homegrown was revived as we see it today, a far cry from garden veggies and the boxcar.

“When we first opened, people would walk in and say, “Wow! It’s a real store!” Compared to the boxcar, it was.

Leslie insists that everyone must know that Hoover is a full partner in the business with her. “She’s the perfect partner,” she says.

Jane couldn’t care less about titles and indulges her. “The only time I’m inclined to pull rank is when some kids are in here poking their fingernails into the soaps.”

“Well,” says Leslie , “she’s the one who took it and ran with it. She does the buying and she arranges everything in the store.”

Leslie and Jane agree that running the store is a team effort. Lisa Zook is the store manager and both agree, “She’s the glue that keeps us together. She’s the computer wizard and assists with buying.” The Topanga Home Grown team is rounded out with part-time employees, artist Debbie Green and April Hinkle, to help run the store.

Building on her experience at Sara’s, where Jane says she learned a lot, she suggested they set up the store by color. “Doing colors is easier on the eye and people are drawn to colors. The red section gets big around the holidays, blue with pink also works,” she says. “Black doesn’t go in the windows; it fades out. Always put color in the windows.”

Inside the store, they create little tableaux by mixing clothing with candles, books and many smaller items such as Buddhas, scarves and other accessories.”

While some of its eclectic inventory may seem to be high-end, Leslie says, “We decided at the beginning we’d make prices as low as possible. The price range in the store is from $1 to $200. We don’t buy two dozen of an item; we’ll get four to six pieces, and if you like it, buy it, because when you come back it will be gone. People come in to buy a gift and while we wrap it, they’ll look around and buy things for themselves.”

Topanga motifs abound in dishtowels, T-shirts and sweatshirts for men, women and kids, as do local crafts, such as AnnMade Candles made with Topanga sage, lavender and rosemary, locally made soaps and the Topanga Historical Society’s book, “The Topanga Story,” and Lily Lambert’s jewelry, a customer favorite, as are Italian silk handbags by Dorit, whom Jane has known for 28 years.

The fun the Home Grown team has with each other extends to their customers. “We have a good time with our customers and know all about them,” says Jane.

“People come up and tell us what they’re doing, where they’re going,” Leslie adds. “It’s a small town and you know everyone by name.

“We pull our customers in on the fun. It’s not just about making a sale; if something is not right, they can come back in and we’ll help them.

“It’s a viable business, but we’ll never get rich,” she says laughing.

“We have fun; people enjoy it,” says Jane. “You have to go far to find the little stores like ours.”

For more information: 120 Topanga Canyon Blvd., #100; (310) 455-8781; topangahomegrown.com.