When nerds aren’t fighting each other on the battle lines for the glory of being the “ultimate fan,” they relax within safe havens like the “Harry Potter store,” in Los Angeles, California. Whimsic Alley, as it’s officially named, has been haunting the streets of Wilshire Boulevard for longer than you’d guess. Hidden between a sports/karaoke bar and a deserted Blockbuster Video, it’s just like the real Wizarding World, if He Who Must Not Be Named were a code name for the Great Recession.
Despite it being years since the last book hit shelves, or the last movie hit theaters, it's frequently unshowered followers still pack the halls. Just recently they showed off their yarn-soft sides in the Etsy-be-damned Harry Potter Store Craft Fair.
For a brief period of time I sold wands at this store. I was in between adult jobs and thought I’d add a dose of whimsy to my life. The turnover rate for employees has been so high, however, that I walked in undetected by any of the wand-wielding staff, a truth I found equal parts relieving and disappointing.
To say the turnout was humble would be a massive understatement. A collection of 13 or so “booths,” littered the store’s “Great Hall,” representing an eclectic mix of hair pins, messenger bags, jewelry, and other items your sister will strain to appreciate when she receives it in her Christmas stocking.
I eagerly navigated my way through the vendors, hungry to find the weirdest item being sold. One thing I learned is that bow ties are a big deal this season. I’d say this fair was about 70 percent bow ties and even though that technically amounted to three people selling themed accessories, that’s still a lot for me.
Another big craft hit? Broaches. Don’t ask me why or how but I found myself in the care of an elderly woman resembling a Golden Girls special guest star all the while shouting, “Broaches are definitely making a comeback!”
My favorite people quickly rose from the heap in the form of two Latina ladies who didn’t know where they were. Their booth was barely decorated, their wares quickly organized onto a cardboard slab with the words, “COOL ACCESSORIES” scrolled across in sharpie. They were beautiful.
When I walked in, I caught whom I will lovingly refer to as Mama Lady (her accomplice was naturally dubbed Baby Lady) dismounting from a top-shelf sales pitch with a socially awkward customer who was looking at the above wacky getup. Mama Lady’s pitch consisted of her screeching, “I danno, it’s like… Batman n’ shit. They’re real cute. You want two?” I marveled at this woman’s boldness.
Their booth, however, was in sharp contrast to the rest of the faire. Banners and posters and tri-levels of Potter-themed treats resting in a fashion to suggest you were entering a Mad Tea Party covered the remainder of the Hall.
Keeping within the “nerd sanctuary” theme, there was even a makeshift bar where you could wet your whistle on the store’s own version of Butterbeer. I approached the stand and found myself face to face with the unbridled enthusiasm one only finds in an employee who’s been told to “just stand there until 5 PM.”
“Hi! Can I get a glass of Butterbeer for you? Would you like it frozen? Would you like to buy a commemorate [sic] cup? Do you need a minute?” He said this all while not blinking once, reciting the memorized speech as if it was only the fifth time he was telling another human person and not the walls that enveloped him for the duration of his shift. I slinked away quietly, but not before responding, “No thanks, I’m straight.” Again, no blinking. My Muggle-like humor had no home here.
After that, I quickly narrowed my sights on a man sitting behind frilly top hats and Potter-themed messenger bags. I was hungry to dig my teeth into some nerd warfare. His name was Michael, and he stood proud beneath a top hat and matching borderline time traveler-y vest. His booth featured nerd-themed messenger bags he hand-stitched himself. According to him, the idea was born out of attending the Harry Potter Adult Wizard Camp where he and his fellow tax-paying human people attended each day with their own wands. Michael’s an innovator, you see, and he saw a need and leaped to fulfill it. His wand-carrying messenger bags were quickly the toast of the Wizard Ball, and online orders soon followed.
“Alright, but what’s the strangest bag you’ve made?” I was ready to throw some dirt, burn some l-b’s, get down on some weird stuff. He hesitated. “Uh. I don’t know, like, Twilight?” My eyes lit up and I went in for the kill with the best joke at my disposal. “Yeah, Twilight! They’re fading fast amiriiiight?”
When I clocked in a couple of summers ago, the store had a “Twilight Corner,” more out of obligation than fan dedication. All throughout that summer I watched it vanish before my eyes, slipping smaller and smaller until it was just a set of Robert Pattinson bedroom-wall appliqués.
I struggled to get Michael to shit-talk vampires. “I mean, they still have conventions every year. So I guess they’re doing OK.” “Yeah, but what about steampunk? That’s like the world’s punchline, right?” The moment I said this my eyes found a butterfly hairpin composed of clock gears. I swallowed my words. “I mean, I don’t think that, but you know, the outsiders must feel that way.”
More and more steampunk people comprised the remainder of the faire. I found out there is such a thing as a “steampunk celebrity,” an individual or group of people who are notorious among the gear-obsessed circles. I asked a young goth girl named Kiara, “Don’t you ever feel like they’re the dorkiest group out of the nerdy?” Again, nothing. “It’s cool. They’re creative. They’re just having fun like the rest of us.” Her words were positively stated, like a hand reassuringly patting me on the shoulder, aware of my disappointment.
I emerged from the tiny nerd fray, dejected by the realization that my graduating class of nerd-dom had long since sashayed away into that good night. A new wave of pop culture appreciators have been ushered into the Chapel for Thou With Specific Interests, and they’re standing at the gates placing flowers where there once were lightsaber beams.
Maybe there isn’t too strong a difference between Skywalker and Spock, but they’ll never take my Potter-loving heart. Though I appreciate and respect others whose allegiance may differ from mine, I stand my ground on who my favorite Doctor Who actor is, or which Harry Potter house I hold empathy for.
And though Mama Lady and Baby Lady, may never know this world, I’m sure they’d still agree with me in saying that Twilight still most definitely sucks.
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