Venice Retailers Look To Lincoln Blvd. For That True Grit
As Abbot Kinney evolves with newcomers including Vince, Current/Elliott, Kit & Ace and the soon-to-debut Sweaty Betty, there's another rapidly developing retail scene appealing to Venice's local maker roots. The love-it-hate-it strip of smoggy air, questionable pedestrian crossings, and free-for-all left turns has been attracting creatives of all types lately to open up shops and businesses.
Earlier this year, a block of retailers between Marco and Amoroso began to fill in around the new Farm Superba, a culinary garden/event space behind Superba Food & Bread, including Rose Avenue-transplant The Golden State, scarf maker Late Sunday Afternoon, and the made-in-LA dress boutique Christy Dawn. Across the way on the west side of Lincoln, another new boutique is in the works and several more spaces feature "for lease" posters.
Many of the new shops are being opened by existing Venice retailers such as Vintage Link, which opened earlier this year as a second location for Venice Vintage Paradise, located on Abbot Kinney. Others have relocated altogether like Venice Heights, a part marketing/media relations shop, part retail shop, and part art gallery, which opened in May between Lake Street and Indiana Avenue. On the retail side—all men’s streetwear-inspired clothing—you’ll find brands like Lifetime Collective and So-Cal based SLVDR.
The owner, Paulina Castelli, had a shop on Abbot Kinney where she did a series of pop-ups with outfits like Kramer & Stout and sneakerhead favorite Kith out of NYC (there was a line of people snaking down the street for that one) and where, in between, she ran a tightly curated store filled with Japanese and English collections that don’t usually make it to the states.
Of her Abbot Kinney location, she says, “I couldn’t get some artists that I wanted. It was too commercial. It wasn’t grimy enough.” She says the locals didn’t seem to want to shop on the street because the original character was being pushed out by big-name brands, and the tourists didn’t know what to make of her unfamiliar and high-priced clothing lines.
Castelli chose Lincoln for a couple of reasons: availability (she connected to the landlord through a mutual artist friend), grit (one graffiti artist collective told her that he looked for “raw energy” and Lincoln had it) and accessibility to her Venice fan base. She’s altered her approach a bit, by highlighting racks of discounted merchandise—still from smaller, boutique brands—and she says she’d like to have her space act as an outlet store for cutting-edge menswear.
As a bonus of being on one of Venice’s busiest street, she’s also picked up some new customers. “I get a lot of people who stop because they are stuck in traffic,” she explains. There’s also foot traffic from the newly renovated Lincoln Place Apartments, and the few brave bicyclists who pedal down the boulevard.
Of course, what every good creative strip needs to up pedestrian intervention is a coffee shop. There's Deus Ex Machina and Superba Food & Bread near Venice Boulevard, and now on the north end of the strip, the Flowerboy Project—just a stone’s throw from Venice Heights—serves that need and then some. Opened in July by Sean Knibb of Knibb Design, the landscape and design studio next door, Flowerboy offers a bit of everything in an eclectic homage to Venice itself.
In the front window of the shop are fresh and dried flowers for a make-your-own-bouquet option (the fresh ones come in on Wednesdays and Fridays). On one side is a coffee and pastry counter, and along the other is a long wall of gifts and goods, mostly from local LA artists, with some national and international items that fit the small, artisan aesthetic Knibb likes.
Knibb moved his studio from Abbot Kinney to Lincoln for practical reasons three years ago. “It was close by, it was affordable—extremely affordable—and then I thought, well it’s the same distance from my house as Abbot Kinney is, so we moved in.”
He was drawn by the mix on his block when he first moved, too. “It seemed so culturally cool,” he says with its 50s-themed cafe, barbershop, tattoo place, dry cleaner and bodega. It was when the bodega closed up shop that Knibb got the idea for a coffee shop with “interesting, edgy stuff, creative stuff.”
The response has been positive, he says. “It’s a ton of locals and a lot of walk-in people, but also people who are coming to see, saying ‘Oh, we heard that there’s this cool scene happening in Venice.’ There are some Eastsiders, out-of-towners, tastemakers, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Of course having a store on Lincoln isn’t all sunshine and lattes. Knibb longs for changes that would make the strip “much more visually appealing for pedestrians,” something that would lead to “more of a connected feel.” Ideally one that pushes walkability, “so what you have happening at Superba could then bleed into what’s starting to happen at Cafe 50s and the pet store and Love Yoga.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Hayley Starr, who moved her clothing design studio and store to Lincoln near Victoria Avenue three years ago. “My prayer for Lincoln is that they make it more friendly for pedestrians and bikers because as it is, it’s really a kind of unsafe place to bike or walk, even.”
Though Starr started with the space as a boutique, she now uses it as a studio during the day (it’s appointment only to see her dresses, jewelry and other art) and as a private events space, The Quest Venice, at night for yoga, meditation, and other classes, workshops and events. It’s an evolution that happened naturally when more and more people started asking her about renting the space. “Everyone wants to have a party in Venice,” she says.
Like Castelli, Starr says that Lincoln’s notoriously slow traffic has benefited her. “People will literally be stuck in front of my space for a good 10 minutes, and often they’ll come in and say, ‘God I go to work every day and I see your windows … and I’ve always wanted to come in.”
Low rents, urban decay, and proximity to where creative make their homes may be the elements of Lincoln’s slow rise to street cred, but sometimes identifying the next new strip comes down to intuition. For his part, Knibb says that after having lived in Venice for about 35 years, he just got a sense that “Lincoln is going to be where the next cool legit vibe is going to come from or be.”