Stretching from Ocean Boulevard to Seventh Street and from Long Beach Boulevard to Alamitos Avenue is Long Beach’s East Village Arts District, a dynamic neighborhood with a distinctive character exclusive to the city.
Repurposed historic buildings house a variety of unique shops, eateries and hangouts to suit any interest, and murals bring color to the area at just about every turn.
Here, there’s no shortage of unique businesses, each with its own story, but some are finding it difficult to compete in the current economy, causing them to shutter and leave a void in the cultural fabric that makes Long Beach special.
On First Street, one beloved local business will close its brick-and-mortar by the end of the month due to an onslaught of issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic—but it will leave behind more than just an empty storefront.
Crystal Early and Natalie Mumford have spent the past five years building community through their shop, 3 Women. Together, the pair created a welcoming, inclusive environment that will be hard to replicate once they’re gone, according to their friend and neighboring business owner Margaret Stoll. Stoll owns Burke Mercantile, a sustainable shop with carefully curated fashion and lifestyle items right next door.
“The space they have created here, they have always had their door open for everybody,” said Stoll. Earlier this month, Stoll created a GoFundMe page to raise money for Early and Mumford, to support their business and give them the option to secure their shop if they chose to do so.
3 Women is a sustainable fashion brand created in Long Beach that offers a variety of clothes made locally out of vintage textiles as well as a wide array of pre-owned clothing. In their eyes, the third woman is everyone they have connected or collaborated with over the years, and like their motto says, “A threefold cord is not easily broken.”
Early and Mumford met in 2016 while selling vintage clothes separately at various flea markets across Los Angeles and quickly sprouted a lasting friendship. They joined forces and began selling clothes together for some years until, one day, Early decided it was time to realize her lifelong dream of owning her own storefront.
The dream came true in Feb. 2018, and the pair opened up the space at 433 E First Street. Along with selling vintage clothes, they began creating one-of-a-kind garments out of deadstock fabric, vintage rice bags and flour sacks, custom-tailored and made-to-measure for anybody that came through their doors.
Before the pandemic, East Village businesses were on the rise and gaining popularity. Early, Stoll and another local business owner, Amy Stock, reactivated the East Village Association website in 2019 to highlight each of the over 80 businesses in the neighborhood.
The pandemic, however, brought it all to a standstill, and with it came economic hardship and uncertainty.
According to Early, foot traffic declined on their corridor, and sales moved mostly online which forced them to cut their hours of operation, issues that are difficult for any small business to bounce back from. Now, she said, the conversation surrounding Downtown businesses has shifted to issues of public safety and homelessness, factors that drive away business from those who need it.
“There’s no one to blame specifically, but there is a lot that needs to happen for even one business in this neighborhood to just survive,” said Early.
In an effort to revive local interest once businesses reopened Downtown, Early, Mumford and Stoll spent late nights in the store brainstorming to create events including clothing swaps, crafting sessions and community events to celebrate sustainability. Despite their best efforts, it hasn’t been enough, said Stoll.
3 Women continued to thrive online and has amassed over 110,000 followers on Instagram. Their pieces have been featured in British Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, W Magazine and have been worn by the likes of Jhene Aiko, Maude Apatow, Maya Hawke and Gracie Abrams.
The brand will be sustained through e-commerce and will continue to operate and build connections at vintage flea markets in the area, but the freedom that comes with owning a storefront will be missed, said Early.
“Small businesses aren’t just people trying to sell stuff and make money. They really are businesses that are super passionate about Long Beach,” she said. “It’s been a total honor to live here, where I choose to live, and also have a business here.”
In the shop last weekend, where vintage textiles hung from the ceiling and colorful clothes hung from clothing racks stacked up against the walls, Early, Mumford and Stoll reminisced over the past five years, the friendships they built and the connections they made.
Customers stopped by and some learned of the upcoming closure for the very first time.
“We’re leaving the shop at the end of the month, I’m sorry to break this bad news,” said Early to an elderly man named Richard who’s been a longtime supporter of 3 women.
Ten minutes later, he came back and slipped two $20 bills under the door.
“This a very special place,” said Early.
The store will be open now through Sunday, Jan. 29, and custom appointments will be available through Monday. Their GoFundMe has raised $7,769 of their $50,000 goal.