March 8 is International Women's Day, so I'd like to have March stories be for the ladies, and the gentlemen who love them. There is probably no one better to speak to about women and Venice than Carol Tantau. Not only has she owned and operated her shop, Just Tantau, on Abbot Kinney since 1982, but she also operates the advocacy program at Sojourn Services for Battered Women and their children in Santa Monica.
sat down to talk in the back of Tantau's shop, as her cats, Ricky and
Lucy, cruised around and walked over her bare feet, all totally at home.
Tantau grew up in Northern California, and headed to Venice in 1971,
like so many who found their way here, "because it seemed like a good
idea." She had her BA in music, (there is a grand piano in the middle
of the shop) and was making her living as a seamstress, which led to a
stint teaching quilting classes. Again, like so many who not only found
their way, but MADE their way here, she often stumbled into her
situations quite by accident. Like when she met her husband, Leon, who
was making jewelry on the Boardwalk when she happened upon him.
married and lived in a little one room pad on the beach, where the
jewelry manufacturing soon outgrew their place, and needed to find a
space for a work shop and storefront. In 1982 there wasn't much
happening on West Washington Boulevard (which you now know as Abbot
Kinney) other than The Merchant Of Venice (open only for breakfast and
lunch) and The Comeback Inn. That meant that they could afford the space
they found at 1353, where Just Tantau still operates right now. They
could afford it because then the idea was that rent was based on "fair
market value" - meaning a rent that enables a business to survive. Ahhh,
the good old days ...
Anyway, Carol and Leon made and
sold their jewelry in the shop, never adding t-shirts and sunglasses to
cater to any tourists that might have happened by, because "Why would
you want to be the same as everyone else?" Another point that might be
well taken today, People.
They attended trade shows
all over the place and began to wholesale their wares, and began buying
from other jewelry sellers to bring to their shop back home. The
business grew and grew. Busy as they were, when The Merchant of Venice
closed at three in the afternoon, that meant the work day was pretty
well done for everyone, and they'd wrap up and enjoy the rest of Venice.
They were good times. (Ok, and it was not a good neighborhood at all
back then, so it may have had a little to do with safety too, as they
slid the metal gates closed at 3 to be closed by dark. But still.)
of travel and trade shows went by smoothly, but then the manufacturing
business started to tank, and so did the marriage with Leon. In
2001, they split the business and the marriage, with Carol keeping the
retail store, and Leon taking over the wholesale. They remain friends
today, and Just Tantau remains a crucial, ORIGINAL store on Abbot
Kinney. I send people there all the time to get unique gifts like
necklaces made out of old typewriter key letters, or Tantau's latest
pieces made out of watch and clock parts. Timeless.
having to travel so much anymore, Tantau began to get more and more
involved with the Venice community. She was the head of the West
Washington Merchant's Association (and was instrumental in getting the
street's name changed to Abbot Kinney, as well as getting the palm trees
planted up and down the boulevard) and then became President of the
Chamber Of Commerce.
That led to involvement in the Community Police
Advisory Board, and after the O.J. Simpson verdict in 1995, it was made
clear that there really was no domestic violence bridge to the LAPD.
Sojourn Services (the second oldest shelter in the state) created an
Emergency Response team to respond to domestic violence calls, and soon
Tantau found herself not only training and becoming a volunteer, but
suddenly in charge of the program! Once you know her, this is not at all
surprising. As she said about herself, "I have the personality for
it." She now manages 35 volunteers, support groups, a legal clinic,
court accompaniments, and acts as an advocate/liaison to the LAPD, where
she recently began teaching about domestic violence at the Police
Academy. Women, Carol Tantau has your back.
able to do all of this important advocacy work, on top of being a small
business owner on Abbot Kinney, which is a luxury she attributes to her
"wonderful employees." They enable her to have the best of both worlds,
and keep her perspective fresh for both. Obviously, Tantau has seen her
share of change in Venice, as she has lived and worked on Abbot Kinney
for over 30 years. The thing that keeps her here and that she loves the
most is the diversity - endangered though it may be.
am in Venice by choice. This is my chosen home, I wasn't born here.
There is a depth that ties me to this place ..." We share this feeling,
and acknowledged the changes around here now. First Fridays and the food
trucks have scared off a lot of old school regulars and neighbors from
the shops because it's such a hassle, and not that fun when you don't
see anyone you know anymore.
But as we were talking, Tantau made a great
point. "We are still here. Real, true Venetians can still take
ownership, but not if they're not here. Don't forget US." Yeah. C'mon,
Venice! We can hole up and avoid the masses on Abbot Kinney, or go out
there and take it back. Show THEM what Venice is about. Have OUR fun. Be nice, but don't kiss ass. Don't be all about the money, but about the sense of
place. I remember hanging out once with Bunny at The Green House, and
someone came in and asked if it was ok to bring in their dog. Bunny
replied, "Of course, this is VENICE." Somewhere different. Somewhere
special. Somewhere not like everywhere else. Somewhere with a strong
history of that diversity, and somewhere that has always had our sense
Carol Tantau has so many stories of Venice
through the decades, she really needs to write a book. But she's awfully
busy, so take the opportunity to stop in to Just Tantau and hear some
tales for yourself. Be a regular again. Be a neighbor. Share your
stories. Take ownership of YOUR chosen home.