Farewell to Flounce Vintage in Echo Park: a story and interview with the owner

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Echo Park Forums
photo credit: Flounce Vintage

Ever lost your favorite piece of jewelry?

One minute you had it and the next it’s nowhere to be found.

That’s how it felt walking down Echo Park Avenue and realizing that Flounce Vintage, that fantastic little shop near the corner (of the “Chango” building), and its owner Lisa Gerstein, have disappeared from the block.

So then you know that feeling when you find the missing piece?

Your heart skips a beat. You swear you searched that very spot a thousand times, but it doesn’t matter. It’s back! And you promise you’ll never let that ring, necklace, bangle, whatever treasure went astray, out of your sight again.

For loyal Flounce clients, who still haven’t heard the good news, Flounce is reopening early April, close by and in a cool little area known as Virgil Village.

Echo Park Forums
photo credit: Echo Park Forums

I’ve loved this shop since I first read the name on the storefront.

As she packed up the last of her things on President’s Day, Lisa and I talked, amongst an antique teapot and teacup in the windowsill, an empty rolling rack, and a few odds and ends left in the magical space that suddenly felt terribly…empty–and I asked the owner to tell me, again, what it means–Flounce.

“It means to throw a little temper tantrum,” she reminded me and smiled.

“That’s right,” I said. Why that image seems so fitting with fashion, I have no idea. But a smile immediately came to me as well. I love that name.

And like kids we looked it up in the dictionary (only this one’s online) and laughed as she read Flounce defined aloud.

“To go or move in an exaggeratedly angry manner. He stood up in a fury and flounced out,” she read with an expression that comes naturally from this Sarah Lawrence Theatre/Creative Writing graduate and former actress.

“And then it also means the ruffle on the bottom of a skirt,” Lisa added. And she pointed to the hem of her dress (which I would love to own a million times over).

It was one of thirty names she went through and yet the only one available. And even though people told her it was hard to pronounce, there was something about Flounce that Lisa couldn’t let go of.

Echo Park Forums
photo credit: Flounce Vintage

Three floods and two owners later, the 1927 building that has been home to her and her gorgeous vintage clothing and accessories recently changed hands (owners) yet again; this time to an LLC.

The first owners she rented from in the Fall of 2002, Myron and Butch.

“They were sort of hilarious,” Lisa reminisced. “Myron used to come in and show me his old football pictures. I mean, they were people.”

During what she considers the “second wave of gentrification”, Lisa took a huge leap of faith and opened the shop during a time when her only income was a residual check from previous acting work and a second job to support the shop.

Echo Park Forums
photo credit: Flounce Vintage

But those owners didn’t want to see this businesswoman fail.

“They actually did stuff, like they helped us advertise. They wanted people in so that the neighborhood could sort of rejuvenate,” Gerstein described her first landlords.

Initially, Flounce was only opened on weekends. She had a partner who was a construction worker and clothing designer who had originally found the space and built it, but after a few months she decided that retail wasn’t for her and left. Sink or swim. Lisa swam.

“It took awhile to turn a profit. It took awhile to even break even, “ she admitted.

As we talked, a woman stopped by and read the sign Lisa had posted on her door, telling customers how the shop’s roof fell in and she is sorry for the inconvenience.

Lisa then walked outside and took the customer’s email and promised to write her when when Flounce is up and running at its new location. Never quite breaking her shopkeeper’s demeanor, still accommodating to others, she smiled and waved and walked back into the empty space.

Echo Park Forums
Flounce before its closing at Echo Park. photo credit: Flounce Vintage

Gerstein is one of those women who can truly be described as a girl’s girl. Just a brief look into her life, and it’s probably impossible to count how many outfits she’s loaned to friends or offered inspiration to them just when they needed it.

And she seems to have been born with this knack for all things vintage. In fact, she started collecting vintage when she was in her teens.

She said, “I’d gone to high school in Vermont and there was just a ton of vintage everywhere, and if you had a good eye you could find the most amazing things for fifty cents. And I was also a little bit of a hoarder, so I was always grabbing stuff to give to my friend or, ‘oh, that’s pretty. I’ll do something with it.’”

By the time she landed in California, with vintage items in storage in New York, with more gained in San Francisco and LA, and disillusioned with the acting world, Lisa decided to try her luck in business.

Gutsy. But Lisa possibly might get this trait from her grandmother, Lily Osvath, a Hungarian emigrant and businesswoman.

Lily Osvath, Lisa's grandmother. photo credit: Flounce Vintage
Lily Osvath, Lisa’s grandmother. photo credit: Flounce Vintage

“She was my crazy, chain-smoking, card playing grandmother,” she fondly recalled.

At the ages of five and six, Lisa said, “She used to take me to the gambling halls where she would play cards. And she let me try on her make-up and stay up late and gave me hot chocolate for breakfast.“

Her grandmother had survived war-torn Hungary and lived life to the fullest.

Echo Park Forums
Lisa’s grandmother, Lily. photo credit: Flounce Vintage

“And she was a blast. She was a lot of fun. And she was inspiring to me because she seemed to find joy in all the most minute things,” she added.

They say that in life there is one person we’re sent who “gets us,” and Lisa insists, “She was the one who got me.”

If Flounce has a sort of lively presence (for a shop), then it’s Grandma Lily who also comes to life when Lisa so vividly recalls her–and the void a woman that incredible leaves behind.

“She died when I was ten. It was devastating,” Lisa says.

Echo Park Forums
Lily Osvath. photo credit: Flounce Vintage

So when this girl from New York moved to San Francisco in the 90’s, and then to LA for a few years after that, she had no idea she’d eventually land in Echo Park, which she said reminded her a lot of New York.

Invited by her friend to join her in business, Lisa recalled, “She said, ‘I found this place in Echo Park. It’s a little weird, nobody knows about it, and it’s a little dangerous, but it’s super-cheap and there are artists on that block. And it’s really cool, and it’s worth a shot.’ It was just doable enough for me to go in on.”

Lisa stayed through three terrible floods and now through two owners, because “I loved the neighborhood and I loved the people,” she explained on her last day in the shop.

“The neighborhood’s changed radically in the last couple of years.” She said, “It’s not even my demographic anymore.”

Twelve years later, she may have prophesized her fate with the shop name, Flounce.

But rather than throw a fit and angrily storm out, Lisa Gerstein, with her lovely lace trim on that beautiful vintage dress, in Lily Osvath style, simply closed the shop door, locked it, pulled that heavy gate for one last time, and strolled away.

Not the type of farewell befitting a lady of her service and hard work, let alone good grace and smile. But something tells me she’s holding the winning hand at this card table. Ante up, boys.

All the best, Lisa. All the best.

Flounce Support

Echo Park Forums
photo credit: Flounce Vintage

Friends and loyal customers dedicated a drive to help Lisa relocate, after the last flood and new ownership closed her doors for good.

Visit that drive if you’d like to help.

You can also visit the Flounce website, to add your name to their mailing list or follow on social media.

Flounce’s New Location

Scheduled to open April 1, 2014:

Flounce Vintage in Virgil Village
718 N. Virgil Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029

About Virgil Village

Echo Park Forums
photo credit: BRE Real Estate

If you’re as terrible with directions and change as I am, let local realtor David Bramante guide you:

Virgil Village is centered on Virgil Avenue, east of Vermont Ave., south of Silver Lake. The name originated in the late 1990s; Virgil Village is considered part of East Hollywood along with Little Armenia and Thai Town. Virgil Avenue is lined with flowering trees, and the neighborhood is in bloom from March to May.

I know it’s near Melrose and one of my favorite places to eat, Cha, Cha, Cha.

Or if you’re in the know, then you probably already helped Lisa move Flounce to its new location, using it as an excuse to visit Sqirl, next door to her new shop location. Just about the purest you can get to divinity in food ingredients, Sqirl was listed as one of Zagat’s 16 Power Players of LA’s Dining and Drinking Scene.

Sounds like she’s going to be right at home in her new place!

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