I’m not going to have kids. It’s a long story and probably a relief to many of you.
But I’m aiming to be that crazy auntie who buys the love of my nieces and nephews. Now this will be difficult since I make only enough money to keep pumping that $3.83 gallon gas once a week into my car.
So I’m aimlessly driving around Highland Park… which I call the Latino part to the predominantly Filipino part of Eagle Rock, which is this awesome quiet community on the outer edges of LA with houses that date back to (gasp!) 1920s, but I digress…
There it is: J and R Party. It’s a little storefront in a small strip mall next to a filipino point-point joint which is “Home of the Crispy Chicken!”
I enter with purpose.
This my friends, is Party City minus the bullcrap retail chain “I just work here” staff. This is Jesse and Rosa(?)… two people in grey shirts just staring out the window… waiting.
There is something about these little family run businesses that make my heart ache. Do they ever get enough business? How do they pay for this retail space? There is a particular book by an asian-american female writer who slips my mind (she did one-woman shows in the late ’90s, also writes for NPR, gosh what was her name? She was one funny writer, had like 3 names..) where she writes an entire chapter on passing by these little mom and pop stores. They’re all over SoCal. Almost always in a strip mall. They vary from that asian Bengali all-you-can-eat buffet to this little J and R Party store.
You see the owners (cuz that’s what they are) standing by the door, peeking out the window, sometimes sitting down and eating a bowl of soup. They’re the ones who jump up and wipe down tables for you when you enter. They’re the ones whose eyes are semi-lit up with something like hope or pride or something like a faint fire when you walk in that door.
How many times I’ve driven past a mom and pop store and vowed to visit?! “I’m going to hit that kabab place sometime.” “I gotta try that yogurt place.” “I gotta try out that Korean spa that just opened up down the hill.” Only to see, 7 months later, that business is puff! Gone. Those hopeful faces that cleaned the windows, gone. All that american dream, gone.
That’s why I’m here at J and R Party. Not only do they come highly recommended via Yelp, they’re not a chain store. I buy a pinata (shaped like a donkey) and Jesse (the owner) says, “Hey if you ever want an original pinata, you just give me a picture and I’ll make it.” “Really?” I ask. He smiles, “Yes, I make pinatas.” His wife(?) Rosa points me down the middle aisle where I buy pinata stuffings: plastic parachute men, whistles, bubble toys, plastic bugs, fun things, etc. (My nieces and nephews are on a strict no sugar diet. That means I can’t just stuff it with candy. Sigh.) I throw my findings onto the counter and all in all, it’s $21.00. Rosa makes a little hole in my pinata “to make it easier to put stuff in”. She hands me a business card. We throw a couple of jokes around. They were professional in addition to funny and warm.
I leave, thanking them for all their help. They smile and wave, and I skip happily to my car.
I know it’s only $21.00, but doesn’t it feel better? I was the only customer there in the 10 minutes I perused the plastic joys; I hope they had at least 3 more before they closed. I just want my money to go to people who still live the dream… even in this small and unknown strip mall in the Los Angeles vicinity.