Southern California

Goodbye to South Bay's Great Vintage Shop: Aaardvark's Closing After 47 Years

What to Know

  • Closing the day after Halloween.
  • Sale is 50 percent of whole store
  • This is the last Aaardvark's in existence at 2621 Artesia Blvd.

If ever in need of a last-minute Halloween must-have, like disco dancing shoes with goldfish frozen in time in the heel, or that obscure wig that will definitely convince fellow revelers that you have possessed the soul of Jim Morrison for your holiday haunt, there was but one place to go in the South Bay.

For nearly five decades, Aaardvark's in Hermosa and ultimately Redondo Beach served a unique purpose. Open year round, the small shop had unique vintage pieces, Halloween costumes, theme party accoutrements and a whole lot of South Bay charm.

As Pinkberry's come and go, and sandy feet pad past quirky shop after shop, there was one that managed to not only survive, but thrive.

Now it's the clichéd "end of an era."

Aaardvark is closing up shop after 47 years, and offering 50 percent or more off on all items in an effort to empty the store cluttered with purple wigs, witchy shoes, masquerade masks, 50s style bathing suits and much more.

It's a store that was once frequented by Robin Williams - you may be able to guess it was his signature wacky Hawaiian shirts that he snagged from Aaardvark's.

There was also that time Shaquille O'Neal dropped a stink bomb in the Hermosa store.

"Everybody remembers that," Jon McCormack, co-owner, said.

Prior to becoming a Laker, Shaq had just bought a million dollar house in Manhattan Beach -- back when it was just around $1 million to live there.

"He came in the store and set off a bomb, and thought it was real cute," Jon said. "We thought it was less than that," Jon said, with a chuckle.

The store opened when Jon and Donna McCormack were fresh out of school. Donna, just 18 years old with a natural talent as a seamstress, made "scarf blouses" - a big hit at Aaardvark's in the 70s in Hermosa Beach.

Joe Stromei started the store out of an old panel truck called "the Odd Ark" at the Rose Bowl Flea Market in between college classes, according to his obituary. He added the third "a" in Aaardvark so he would be at the very top of the phone list when it came to antique and used clothing.

In 1972, the store was originally called Aaardvark's Odd Ark and it was nestled in the colorful little beach town of Hermosa, in the 800 block of Hermosa Ave.

Jon and Donna spotted clothes in the window and after chatting with the owner, Joe, one thing led to another, and they were hired.

The twosome worked at Aaardvark's Odd Ark for 12 years before buying the store in 1984 from Joe.

Nine stores around Southern California soon popped up.

"It was THE name in vintage clothing," Jon said.

Although, at the time, the late 70s, it wasn't just vintage. In true LA fashion, the clothing was called re-purposed, or recycled. Even "gently used" was a popular term.

"People were just becoming aware of how important it was to recycle," Jon said.

"Can I just say something?" asks Donna, as she and Jon respond during the interview like only a couple married for the better part of their lives do, as if they're playing jazz, respectfully waiting for the perfect moment to play on her partner's last sentence.

"Before Joe opened these stores, it was pretty much that you went to Goodwill, and there was stuff that looked like your grandma wore it," Donna said.

Jon and Donna, along with the original owner Joe, turned it into something special.

Aaardvark's made it cool to wear vintage.

"He revolutionized everything - he made it cool. It was a better grade of clothing," Jon said of Joe.

The Hollywood store saw "just about everybody" in terms of celebrities.

Robin Williams, Bruce Springsteen - who loved buying Aaardvark's over-dyes, black jackets, and Levi vests - and plenty of celebrity athletes living at the beach, including Luke Walton, LA Kings' Jeff Carter, and admittedly, some people Jon and Donna don't even recognize.

"There are several music people who, I admit, I don't know their names, but the girls who work here get all 'did you see that?!'" Jon said.

But as the years passed, the Aaardvarks kept dying off - leaving only the final Redondo location. A white rhino - or white aardvark, if you will.

"This Aaardvark is the only one left of the originals," Jon said.

There was once one in Canoga Park, one in North Hollywood, and Silver Lake.

By 2006, the McCormacks had moved to the Redondo store, cemented between the bustling traffic of Inglewood Avenue and the Galleria Mall to the far eastern end, and the warm, orange glow of the beach to the western end.

"Aaardvark really was the trendsetter. It was the name in vintage. If you were going to get vintage, you were going to Aaardvark," Jon said.

But all things must come to an end.

Jon and Donna considered selling it.

"But it's not a business you can just step into," Donna said. "There's a lot of us in it."

The two have learned their very unique process of acquiring atypical clothing or pieces for their store over 46 years.

"When we started on this journey, she was 18," Jon said. "It is a very long time to be doing this."

The Halloween season can be demanding as well. So the two are hanging up their vintage cowboy hats, and retiring.

"I told him after last Halloween, I just can't do another one," Donna said.

Every year, the lines wrap around the store and back out through the front door.

"I'm glad it's the last season, but I'm a little sad it's the last Aaardvark," Donna said.

And the end of the Aaardvark era isn't without protest. Jon spoke of a woman who came by the store, in tears, and had to leave and compose herself. He said she came by not to take advantage of the clearance sale, as most might, but to just say "thank you."

"If people didn't care that we're closing, we didn't do our job," Jon said.

What's next for the building where Aaardvark stands? Jon says one man pitched an idea of making it an escape room.

The more important question will be, where will everyone go for their last-minute costume needs.

Of course, there are Halloween shops that pop up every season.

Yeah, you can scour line after line of clothing at Goodwill, or the Salvation Army.

And it's possible to seek out the quirkier shops in the mall.

But the absence of Aaardvark in the South Bay will leave a colorful, gabardine, silk-covered, frayed, tie-dyed void that will change something fundamental in the beach cities forever.

"Come buy a piece of history," Jon said, a little sarcastically. "It's kind of hokey, just come by and say hi. I can't tell you how many people have come by just to say thanks."

As Jon and Donna say their farewells, along with Godfrey, the ever-present vintage mannequin posted out front, they take with them a treasure chest of memories.

"We haven't gotten rich off this, but it's been a decent way to earn a living," Jon said.

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