Antique is the Answer in NoHo

A Profile on Kathy’s E. Boutique (Antique Boutique)

If you asked the uninitiated what the draw of the NoHo Arts District was, you might hear something about all the new restaurants and eateries. But for those who have immersed themselves and made the neighborhood their home, you would get a very different answer. You see, this neighborhood has become a breeding ground for the arts, with theater companies, the TV Academy, the Art Institute of California and many dance and recording studios alike, decorating the neighborhood with boundless ambition. And one staple of this dynamic community that would be on the tip of every resident’s tongue is the often-celebrated Kathy’s E. Boutique (Antique Boutique).

Located on Magnolia Blvd, between Lankershim and Vineland, Kathy’s E. has been legendary throughout the entire city of Los Angeles for over 25 years.

All you have to do is pay a visit to their Yelp page, and you’ll see testimonials a mile long. So why all the attention? Well, to really get a sense of what makes this establishment so popular, you needn’t go further than its dynamic co-owners Ernestine and Kathy. I only got to speak with Kathy and Ernestine for a little less than an hour, and even in that short amount of time, I was so connected to their integrity and authenticity, feeling like the conversation was custom made for me. “First, we start with liking ourselves, and then we treat people the way we want to be treated,” Kathy commented. “Our goal is to make sure that people have a good experience when they walk into our store because we understand that shopping is a deeply personal thing. We simply welcome our customers, let them know that our house is their house, and we’re here if they need us.”

This philosophy is exactly what brings in celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith, Angela Bassett, and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as well as Oscar-nominated costume designers like Ruth Myers.

Kathy's E Boutique

And with the access that all of these industry veterans have, the fact that they choose to spend their time and money at Kathy’s E. Boutique (Antique Boutique) is proof that their philosophy works. And then there’s the business of their selection of clothing. Kathy’s E. is lush with a variety of dresses, suits, hats, shoes, jewelry, gloves, coats and accessories, dating as far back as the 1920’s- from famous lines like Lilli Ann and Gucci. And for more than 25 years, they’ve provided the film studios with unique pieces that you’ve seen on small-screen hits like That 70’s Show as well as the big screen classics like Myra Breckinridge, starring Raquel Welch and Farrah Fawcett.

But it was the Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning costume designer Ruth Myers who really legitimized Kathy and Ernestine’s reputation in the industry back in the late 1980s. “When we first started out, we were fortunate enough to have the industry come to us,” Kathy recalled. “Ruth Myers, who was a really top-notch customer and well-known in the business, came to us looking for period pieces for a movie she was working on called Blaze.” A period piece set in the 1950’s, Blaze tells the story of Governor of Louisiana Earl Long, played by Paul Newman, as he falls desperately for a stripper named Blaze Starr, while trying to maintain his political career. And like any period piece, the costumes are one of the most important elements to bringing and maintaining a story’s authenticity.

Kathy's E Boutique

“So she came into our original store location, and I remember she pretty much bought all of our jewelry, the clothes, everything,” Kathy said. “She pretty much cleaned us out. She was just in awe of the collection of things we had in there, and it was a huge learning experience for us.”

Another major learning experience occurred when Kathy’s E. closed for a year back in 2010 due to building renovations. Kathy and Ernestine were without a store during that time, and it was hard not only on them, but also on the community. But within a year, their genuineness and validity drew the right people to them in spite of their circumstances. You see, their original location was a small space next door to the Philadelphia Sandwiches restaurant. And the owner of that building promised them their space back as soon as he was done renovating, but two months turned into three and so on. Meanwhile, Kathy and Ernestine received several calls from other renters, looking to bring them in as tenants.

But it was one special, rather simple phone call that really made the difference. “We met with one renter, a woman who goes strictly on vibes, and it was the oddest thing because she was texting with me, and I told her that I’m like a chicken pecking at the phone when it comes to texting; I’m really bad,” Kathy remembered. “So she told me to hang up the phone, and I did. And she called me up and asked, ‘When would you and Ernestine like to come and pick up the key?’ And that’s how we ended up in this spot, which is just a few doors down from the previous spot, and we’ve been here for the past four and a half years.”

Yes, Kathy and Ernestine will have been in business 26 years this September, which is why it struck me as ironic when Kathy admitted that in the beginning, she had no real interest in co-owning a clothing store. It was Ernestine who possessed an entrepreneurial spirit right from the start, believing that the only way to generate any real wealth was as a business owner. But while Kathy had always been a collector of vintage and antique items, it wasn’t until she met Ernestine that her future was forever altered. And what’s most impressive about these two immovable forces is the fact that they are both self-taught and self-made.

“Where a lot of people like brand new things, we’ve always been drawn to history and things that have a story behind them, and that’s what vintage is,” Kathy said.

“And you don’t learn that in school, you learn about these things when you’re out collecting pieces from different eras, and doing researching on where those pieces came from.”

And it’s this knowledge base, combined with their love and affinity for their customers and for their pieces that has made Kathy’s E. Boutique (Antique Boutique) an icon in the NoHo Arts District. And no matter how many new developments and changes occur in this resilient community, you can rest assured that Kathy and Ernestine are not going anywhere any time soon.

“I think vintage clothing is a lot of fun for people because it can reconnect them back to their family members whom they love and miss. Just today, a girl bought a hat because it reminded her of her grandfather,” Kathy commented. “We’ve had people meet for the first time here in our store, start dating and eventually end up married. And for us, we feel great when we see someone standing in front of a mirror, putting on that special jacket and experiencing what it’s like to see themselves in a different light, and we get to experience that right along with them. We get to make people happy, and that’s what it’s all about.”

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