OpEd: Ode to the BlockParty

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It’s the BlockParty’s 14th Anniversary serving West Hollywood. There are too many stories to tell! But I would like to begin with a Thank You. Thank you to the city we love, thank you to the residents and friends who make our community special, thank you to the tourists and customers who come from all over the world. Every week we hear ‘this is our favorite store’, ‘we wish we had a BlockParty in our hometown’. And thank you to the employees who open the doors and greet the guests seven days a week during the day and into the night.

In November 2009 the world began crawling out of the depths of the financial crisis. Similar to the post-Covid era, West Hollywood was being reborn. Marta and Misti opened the Yogurt Stop in the spring of 2009. Summer brought the re-opening of Micky’s after a long closure due to a fire. The Pavilion’s would celebrate its grand re-opening in July 2009. And in the 4th quarter of 2009, the BlockParty WeHo store was born at the former location of a Different Light Bookstore.

For today’s anniversary tribute I’d like to honor our staff. A staff that opens the doors and greets the guests from all over the world. The BlockParty staff are tour guides, security guards, receiving clerks, and salespersons and stylists – we are our own security dealing with the homeless, and as one of the only stores open during the day, we are a magnet for all who wonder where to eat, or what’s going on around town.

In all the years I can’t recall anybody having to be let go except a bump in the road, once or twice. . There has never been an unemployment claim, or lawsuit, or settlement.  We don’t have staffing problems because the staff are all unique and special and bring a love for the community to their jobs. An interview goes something like this. -Hi, “I’m the owner but not the boss”, I am visually impaired. This job is not going to be your life, so what do you want in this life and where do we fit in. You need to bring your head and your smile to work every day and leave your drama at home. If you pass the screening your 2nd interview is downstairs on the floor with the customers. We will do that twice and then we’ll talk again. My job is to make sure there is a proper flow of product into the store and your job is everything from the time the goods hit the front door to the time the merchandise is sold. So, what is your goal in this life?

Introducing Jim Hieronymus. Jim is a 10% partner in the business. We met in the early 1980s while he was a buyer for a department store. Jim later joined the YMLA team. Jim has worked by my side since the late ’90s. No one knows me better and he’s seen it all. I’ll make a deal for a product line and Jim chooses the colors and projects out the units. The store operates through a multi-level structure of vendor partnerships. There is no room for weak suppliers.

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The king of the hill is Ric. A young man moved to WeHo from Lake Tahoe around Valentine’s Day 2012. His first stop for a job was the BlockParty. Ric had his goals and today his full-time job is downtown working with clothing lines and selling to retailers. But every Friday night Ric heads to the BlockParty to close shop and set the pace for the weekend. Ric’s passion and love for the community have helped BlockParty become the incredible shop that it is today. Every new employee needs to get the Ric seal of approval.

Nick Rose joined the company in November of 2016, and is the store opener five days a week. Also known as the ‘drunken barber’, Nick is going on seven years and has a small share of the business. Nick is in charge of buying the food and convenience items that cater to the night crowd. He met his partner Josh at the shop on his first Halloween and if Nick and Josh decide to marry we will shut the whole store down for the night and wheel in a giant staircase to celebrate their wedding. Josh also works part-time at the shop.

If you have been in the shop you probably know Socrates. Soc joined the BlockParty team in April 2017. Soc’s no-nonsense, and get it done attitude are an incredible part of the fabric of the BlockParty. He is a dancer at some of the clubs at night. The homeless get him down. But Socrates also has a very special role as the buyer for the adult products. Our game plan is to be a category killer and employ a pricing strategy that undercuts the MSRP on many of the products we carry. Socrates is our resident ‘sexpert’, and it’s fun to watch him interact with the customers about the products. A very sweet kid with a good heart who cares about the shop and the community.

Manny Valdez is another superhero, a talented visual guy. Manny joined us in March of 2020. Manny loves the fashion business, works full-time while also attending college learning more about the business, pattern making, design, and more. Manny’s a team player with an incredible eye for the product and when it comes to merchandising he can flip the store faster than anyone to get ready for the weekend.

It’s a pleasure to also introduce you to Michael Harrington. Mike joined BlockParty in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic in May 2020. Michael takes a special interest in the ‘fan’ dept as well as other display-oriented visuals. BlockParty has the largest selection of ‘drag fans’ and other gay adornments and Michael makes sure all is perfectly organized. But more than his work ethic is the kindness he brings to the shop and to people in and out of the store. Mike is always there to share a loving hug and kindness each day.

Jose Ferrar joined us in October 2019. Due to theft, we had to pay special attention to the dressing rooms and the units going in and out. I placed an ad “Looking for a dumb Jock that can count to 4”. We had more responses to that ad than any in previous history. JJ went from dressing room monitor to a full night manager. JJ takes pride and loves helping style people with their party attire. JJ is more than an employee, he is a kind, loving person who cares about the store as much as his family.

Yogi Parks first came to the BlockParty in April 2016.  His previous experience at Lululemon shows in his ethic and approach to the customer. Yogi took a sabbatical in 2018 to travel to India to volunteer for the Naz Foundation tutoring kids born with HIV in English.   Yogi continued traveling throughout the Far East teaching kids in Thailand, Vietnam and the Middle East.   He returned earlier this year and works at both the BlockParty and YMLA shops.   He also teaches yoga and brings a warm heart to the shop every day.  

Brian Hibbard joined us in early 2022, recently becoming the YMLA store full-time manager. Brian is brilliant. He tackles any crazy idea I need to research. He builds our company website and leads online sales for both shops. Brian is our creative sign maker, chart builder, and is a dedicated team player.

And the latest addition to the BlockParty staff is Juan Espinoza, – a counselor by day and night/weekend sales lead. Juan joined us almost three months ago. His letter to me after his first weeks summed it all up, “My experience with the customers has been great. I like being able to help them find what they’re looking for and make it a fun lighthearted shopping experience. The guys are really cool, they quickly made me feel part of the team and welcomed me into the job like a group of friends. I personally really like the products that we sell, it is nice and neat that we have the most Iconic Gay brands in one shop, and that we have a wide array of Pride items for everybody. I was at the shop on my shift yesterday and I realized that I’m getting paid to be my most exciting, social, upbeat, friendly, happy, helpful, engaging, colorful, bright, and fun Gayest self that I can be. Block Party is a great place to work, hang out, meet new friends, meet new people and shop – very happy to be here!

Being a great employer is my most important job. There are many great employers in West Hollywood. But recent city council policies have taken away the flexibility of many employers. A one-size-fits-all worker ordinance treats all employees like the unhappy union workers. Good employers who pay and treat their employees well have to adopt new rules tailored for large hotel staffs.

If our city council wants to encourage more small businesses like mine to thrive, the city council needs to have faith that there are many great employers in this city and many happy employees.

With much love to my staff and for our city. Welcome to the BlockParty.

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:dpb
:dpb
6 months ago

Congratulations and Happy Anniversary to everyone at the BlockParty! And Larry Block, to get a peek at your staff’s clarity of vision for the store, their individual roles and their personal ambitions for themselves comes from special nurturing; that commonality would be you. They are a special group with a special leader. Cheers to many more years!

Ovid
Ovid
6 months ago

Block Party is the last bastion of gayness in weho. Long may you run. So happy YMLA has opened now too. I hope both stores will be here forever, until the last syllable of recorded time.

Balderdash
Balderdash
6 months ago

Block Party is a one-of-kind store. We don’t have anything like this where I live. Love the merchandise, the staff are all wonderful. Keep doing what you’re doing fellas!

Curtis Beers
Curtis Beers
6 months ago

Awesome article….I love the Block Party & all of the workers are always friendly.

marc brown
marc brown
6 months ago

Congratulation on surviving! It’s not easy to have a brick and mortar store in this age of online shopping!

Victor
Victor
6 months ago

Amazing journey & in depth back story

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