The best place to find something you weren’t looking for…

24 Sep


When one thinks of art supplies, oil paints and brushes often come to mind. No one would ever think of an emptied, but fully intact egg shell or a scoop of glass drops priced at $1.99.  Anything can be defined as art and therefore, anything can be considered art supplies.

Forget thinking outside the box, the Zinnia Arts and Crafts Store in South Pasadena scratches out the box entirely by carrying a random assortment of knickknacks and trinkets that all can be turned into art. A hodgepodge of possibilities, this little shop that is tucked away from the world in between an auto shop and snazzy bistro, is a place to unlock one’s creativity and delve into the artistic treasure troves that practically explode from every corner of the store.


When anyone first meets Tamara Tolkin, the owner and creator of Zinnia, there is no doubt she could be anything but an artist. Wearing a flowing Bohemian top that matched her sea green eyes, silver bangles that jingled whenever she walked and purple Crocs that squeaked on the paint-splattered floor, she gave off the laid-back vibe of someone who loves to create.

“My store has often been described as the best place to find something that you weren’t looking for,” said Tolkin,48, an artist who works with three-dimensional designs. “There are already a lot of art supply stores, but none of them sell things like this, and all of these things can be turned into art.”

Tolkin started Zinnia five years ago in April, getting her art supplies from garage sales, flea market and trade shows. Opening an arts and crafts store had been a long-time dream of Tolkin since she moved from Florida in 1981.

“I love retail and I’m an artist, so I found a way to fuse these two passions together,” she said as she moved from counting change to making designs on a graphic pad.

A Chinese lantern hanging next to a chandelier, a laughing statue of Buddha, toy dinosaurs, dice, an old Remington typewriter with a love letter from 1942 still in the type. Tolkin sees the potential in all these objects to become art.

“I created this entire store around three-dimensional concepts. The whole store is a place of art. Art is more than canvas and paint, it can be anything.”

Such an eclectic store can only attract an even more eclectic range of customers. From the neighborhood or from across the globe, young or old, artsy or not so artsy, Tolkin has seen all walks of life pass in and out of her green glass doors, all eager to piece out the vivid intricacies of their imaginations.

“I get customers from all over. I’ve become a destination for most people, they search me out,” said Tolkin, who has had customers from as far as Australia.

One would think with the economic downturn that people would a little less willing to create and that the gold bell in Zinnia that announces the arrival of visitors would be ringing a little less often. Small businesses across the nation have been flatlining, and few would expect a tiny arts and crafts store to weather the waves of the recession for very long. However, it turns out the one thing that’s recession proof, in addition to candy and alcohol, is art.

“I was kind of worried about sales slumping this year because of the recession, but I was surprised to find out we’re getting more customers than usual,” said Tolkin.

The past year has proved even busier for Tolkin as she watched Zinnia boom despite the economic downturn.

Poll: Why are art stores still booming in the recession?

“The ailing economy hasn’t affected my business at all. With rising unemployment, even more people are staying a

t home and have the disposable time to create things,” said Tolkin. “When things are tight, people may give up that steak dinner or the new BMW, but you can’t a price on being able to unleash their imaginations.”

And with many of the store’s knick knacks and bric-a-bracs selling for 10 cents a piece, creativity can come pretty cheap.

“The designation of true art never has to be an elitist thing. It shouldn’t be confined to museums and art galleries and history books. It’s anything that springs forth here”-Tolkin points to her head-“and then nestles in here,” she finished, pointing to her heart.

Tamara Tolkin is the epitome of doing what you love and says that her workplace is also her art studio, making it hard for her to call what she does work.

“I love coming into work every day. Zinnia is my job, but it’s a place where I have the freedom to create all the time. Creating art and helping others create art is my passion,” said Tolkin. “To be able to do that for a living is pretty lucky.”

The store cat, Alli, often meows at customers on their way out.

The store cat, Alli, often meows at customers on their way out.

Link to my original post on Zinnia….


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