Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Firefly: Art. Funk. Jive.

"Oh, I love that store!" That's pretty much what people say every time Firefly on Abbot Kinney is brought up. It's coming up on 11 years since Erinn Berkson opened her delightful shop, and in that time she and Firefly's fun gifts have gladdened many a heart.

This story is going to be entirely biased because Erinn is one of my BFF's for life, and I've spent a lot of good times at Firefly over the years. That started from day one, when she was originally going to open up in the old Take Note space on the Windward Circle. I went in, happy that there was going to be a good card store (I love cards) in the neighborhood. I liked the proprietress immediately, and assured her I'd be her best customer. Then she got majorly burned, having bought the business, but the Landlord wouldn't give her the lease to go along with it. A very rough and stressful life/business lesson, to be sure. Erinn was undaunted though, and as they say, things happen how they're "supposed to". A space was available on Abbot Kinney Blvd. (and this was before there was really anything other than Abbot's Habit and Abbot's Pizza on the block) and she snatched it up, opening for business on May 5, 1999 - Cinco de Mayo!

Let's back up a second. I recently had a friend ask what things did you want to be when you were little, like 8 or 9, and why didn't you do them if you didn't, and YAY if you did. Well, on the day I talked to Erinn about Firefly, she told me that she'd always wanted to have a store! So now I love it even more. Erinn grew up all over the place, moving 23 times, as her late Mother would change her mind a lot about where she wanted to be. For some, this might have been disruptive or hectic, but for Erinn, she loved knowing a lot of different places, and it enabled her to always do her own thing and not follow any pack. She wanted to be an artist, she wanted to be a writer, and she wanted to have her own store. All things she still wants - and is - today.

After studying Art History and Spanish at school (University of Arizona - Tuscon), she came back to California to help watch out for her younger brother, and somehow this artsy lady got a job at an investment firm, 8-5. Wearing nylons and all. That could only last so long with her colorful spirit, so she then bounced around a bit, working at Mani's Bakery, taking UCLA Extension classes on writing Children's Books, and loving it. Then one day, on a total whim, she chanced upon Take Note, going out of business. She told them she'd like to take it over. She had NO experience, had no idea how a retail business worked, or even where you got merchandise for a store. She will tell you, it was the hardest, longest, most ignorant way possible to do it, but she had the FIRE in herself to get it done. Once the whole Take Note space fell apart, she took her chair and sat outside of the Abbot Kinney space to stalk it, as the Landlord was like the Wizard Of Oz, unreachable and never returning calls. When she finally snagged their attention, she begged and pleaded with them until they relented and gave her the lease. The lease on what she now describes as a "Haunted Mansion". There was stuff everywhere, old aquariums and junk, and her family thought she had absolutely lost her mind.

She worked her head off, cleaning and prepping, and asking strangers, "How do you do this? "Hi, how do you buy?" "Oh, you need a re-sale permit?" etc ... and soon found her way through it all. This is an excellent lesson to take from Erinn ... "If you have an idea, do it. I did it knowing NOTHING, but I wasn't going to let that stand in the way of my dream. I was too naive to think that it might NOT work, I just knew it would ... And I'm STILL learning."

Firefly has been busy since the day Erinn opened. She is a Cornerstone of Abbot Kinney (in the middle of the block), and the go-to spot for excellent gifts in Venice. She won't say this, but I will, and that is that she was a real Pioneer of the Abbot Kinney we enjoy today, creating what I think is the first real destination store on the block. She knew from the start she wanted to be in Venice, as changing though it may be, it will always draw more eclectic, more creative people. "I didn't ever say, 'I want a store on Montana' ... I'd murder myself." Exactly.

Erinn used to live in Idaho for a bit, and didn't think she'd want to live in L.A. again with all the traffic, etc ... but once she hit Venice, she found that it had all the best elements of both places. Small town vibe (neighbors dinging their bike bells hello), sense of Community, art openings, and culture. Firefly has certainly embedded itself in our Community, and Erinn is a very active member ... donating to events and organizations left and right, volunteering, and welcoming one and all to her whimsical world. That world got a little bigger last year when Firefly moved into its current space next door to the last, and the light, airy new digs are even better. She'd always admired the 1409 space, and ran to the phone as soon as she heard it was available.

Change is inevitable, and Erinn has seen a lot of it. She loves the new stores and restaurants that have joined her on Abbot Kinney, and is a big supporter of buying and eating locally. Though she is NOT a fan the Food Trucks on First Fridays - "And you can quote me on that" - which "Take the soul out of it". As all of us seem to be, Erinn is mixed about the "Spring Break Cancun" feel that has evolved from when First Fridays was drinking some wine at your friends' shops and hearing their friends play music on the back porch. Those are some of Erinn's fondest memories of the store, as well as chilling in the back of the old space with margaritas, and the end of long holiday season work days, closing up and toasting with her long-time friends and neighbors.

Every item in Firefly has been chosen with love and fun by Erinn, and it really is a great spot for cute clothes, baby gifts, excellent cards, Art and Kids books, and my current favorite items, Angela Adams bags made out of sail cloth, and little Mexican wrestler masks for your thumbs! She never runs out of ideas, and is constantly spending nights far past midnight, re-arranging, making cool displays, and keeping one step ahead of the next day. "It's not easy work, it's not glamorous, it's always a work in progress, but I love what I do, and I love it HERE."

Her customers love it too. I'll fill in for her sometimes at the shop, and it's a constant stream of people coming in and expressing their love, both for the fun present they just bought (perhaps for themselves) and for Erinn. Their kids have grown up stopping into the 'Fly to get a sparkly ball or great new book, and she's seen them bloom from babies into cracking voiced tweens. The most joyous news is that those customers will now have the chance to see HER baby grow, as Erinn and her husband, Tim, are about to have their first child ... and her due-date is Cinco de Mayo, the same day that she birthed her wonderful Firefly!

I own lots of "Vintage Firefly" that I've had to keep, imbued with the accompanying fond memories. In those days, Erinn's business card said, "Firefly. Art. Funk. Jive." I loved that then, I love it now. And I love Firefly and Erinn. It and she are truly a Community Treasure, and I'm so thankful that she threw caution to the wind eleven years ago, and gave us Firefly ... with all its art, funk and jive.

OK, enough talking about it. I'm heading there now.

1409 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, 90291


  1. Great article about a Great Shop and Proprietress!! Give Erinn a hug and tell her I like the cute picture of her!! XOXO

  2. Peggy said....
    So happy Aunt Patsy sent this to me!

    Erin you are amazing! Not living in your area, this article gave a very descriptive feel of your great shop and the community you serve. You can be proud of your accomplishment. Your tenure speaks volumns of your passion for retail.

    Love to you, Tim and your new baby,