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A Sad and Final Note for Sadie

Neighborhoods: Quirky West L.A. shop, filled with nostalgic toys and sweets, says farewell.

February 07, 1998|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

She's closing the book on the odd little store that has surprised shoppers for a quarter-century.

But first, customers are writing that book for Joan Talmadge.

One by one, those who have shopped for things such as toy tin soldiers or delicate writing quills or exquisite Japanese China are slipping back into her tiny Fairfax district emporium to say goodbye.

Hundreds have filled a journal on an old-fashioned oak display case with their recollections of a soon-to-be-closed store called Sadie.

The memories are sweet. The parting is not.

"What will I do without you and Sadie--my refuge, my haven from the madness," wrote Judy Scheer, an actress from West Hollywood who returned the other day to inscribe the book.

Putting down the pen, Scheer gazed around the shop, anchored by an old-style candy counter at one end and a children's room crammed with books, wooden toys and familiar games at the other. It reminded her of growing up in St. Louis, she said.

"I'm devastated. Crushed that we're losing this," Scheer said.

Buffeted by lingering effects of the recession, Talmadge is retiring to Northern California to raise vegetables on a two-acre parcel near Sebastopol. She has decided to shut down Sadie rather than sell it to someone else.

Entries in the book reflect the unusual bond that has formed between the museum-like shop and generations of customers.

"So many years coming in here, I just assumed I would always be able to," reads an entry signed by Steve Cholan. "This is going to take a lot of getting used to."

"Oh my. Your store was an adventure, a refuge, a playland, a place to laugh my blues away," starts the inscription signed by Leslie Clark. "There were cool things everywhere, special goodies and treasures that reminded me of my childhood. . . . We sure will miss your magic."

Lily Kerrigan, 12, confides: "When I was little, my sweet tooth was created here. The store was like a little secret hideaway that smelt like dreams and tasted like wonder."

Customers never knew what to expect when they walked into the shop at 3rd Street and Crescent Heights Boulevard. Merchandise was always changing. And there always seemed to be something on display that was guaranteed to delight.

Hand-built wooden shelves and glass cases were crammed with items such as sealing wax, obscure greeting cards, bottles of wine and cognac cordials, dollhouse furniture, wooden rolling pins, jewelry, handmade baskets, pottery, spices and books--such as "Civilisation" and "Dogs to the Rescue," which sit side by side on one rack.

A lunch counter served sandwiches made of Black Forest ham and Buongusto salami and a dozen other deli items. A coffee bar offered espresso and cafe au lait. The 1950s-style candy counter was stocked with such treats as Red Vines licorice, Bazooka bubble gum, Pixie Sticks and Good & Plenty.

Longtime customer Kathlin Carmean, an advertising art director who lives in Laurel Canyon, returned to the store the other day to buy candy wax bottles filled with syrup--the kind of treat she remembers purchasing as a child from the Helms Bakery truck.

"I've come here since I was 18 and first started driving, and I'm 35 now," Carmean said with a shrug. "Joan brought back the kid in me. My heart sank in my stomach when I heard she was closing."

Mary Proteau, a Hancock Park film and TV writer, has shopped at the store for 23 years. She stopped in this time to buy a bubble-blowing toy, a cookie cutter and some candles. But other times, she told Talmadge, she often visited just to enjoy the shop's ambience.

"This place is like an oasis," Proteau said. "You can't close and let us all down."

Talmadge was 29 when she opened in 1972. She named the store Sadie because "it's a wonderful name--most people can associate good things with a name like Sadie."

She said her decision to leave hasn't come easily. But the recession took its toll, causing her to shrink from five employees to one--lunch counter worker Walter Polanco. Talmadge's mother, 83-year-old Silvia Talmadge, helps out as bookkeeper several times a week.

Keeping the shop open six days a week also took its toll, Talmadge said. "I need to let my brain relax. I'm really tired."

Longtime customer Darian Bleecher, 26, of Westwood has volunteered to help in the store for its final days. She said her mother began bringing her to Sadie when she was 3.

"I still have all my children's books from here," Bleecher said. "I was devastated to hear Joan was closing. With chain stores and strip malls with no personality, there's nothing like this anymore."

Talmadge said she put out the book for people to sign after customers--some crying--began coming in to say goodbye. Sadie will shut its doors at the end of the month--sooner if sales continue at the current pace.

Its unique mix of merchandise was a reflection of her personal taste, Talmadge said. Her home in the Beverlywood area is also filled with "stuff like this--stuff that I love. I can't help myself," she said with a laugh.

For that reason, she turned down an offer to sell Sadie and its contents, she said.

"A person walked in the other night and said they wanted to buy it as is. Then they said, 'We'll modernize this, we'll change that.' I said no. That wouldn't be Sadie."

That makes sense to Brenda Streater, a gourmet food wholesaler from Beverly Hills who stopped by to write a farewell in the book.

"No one could duplicate what Joan has done," said Streater, who has shopped at Sadie since 1978. "They'd ruin it. They'd lose the charm of this place."

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