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Finding Community during COVID at Teapop.




This article, written by Creative Life Mapping's Jasmine Leong, is reproduced here from El Camino College's "The Union: Stories from Our Communities." Click through to view more articles from this series.


Just south of Magnolia Boulevard on Vineland Avenue there is the feeling of a neighborhood that might be past its prime.

Teapop is an oasis in this desert-land: the neighborhood spot tattooed with tea-themed graffiti and Chinese characters serves customized tea, coffee, and boba drinks.

Walking through their store into the back patio is like walking through a portal to another time or space — people are sitting on their laptops and having first dates on rustic wood tables with mismatched chairs under hanging succulents.

The space is the stereotype of an artist in LA’s dream, tucked away from the main street of the historic North Hollywood Arts District.

It’s not hard to imagine what the space would be like pre-COVID-19, but one doesn’t have to.

Teapop’s Fall Market from Nov. 13 to 15 featured small local vendors on their street-facing space and back patio. Products for sale included masks, second-hand clothing, art, jewelry and other trinkets.

It was a reminder that it is possible to support a community of local artisans while complying with pandemic restrictions. However, many vendors had their sights set farther than their enterprises.

Jennifer Garcia, 34, and Jonathan Gonzalez, 26, both lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and started their business, The Vegan Candle, as a way to use their new-found time.

However, the project means something different for each of them.

Gonzalez said he is working to grow the business but is also looking for work since losing his job transporting exotic vehicles. For Gonzalez, the hardest thing about the pandemic is “being locked up inside the house.”

“I’m a person who’s very active, and I have a busy mind. Before I was going all over the place, especially with my job, and staying home has made me anxious,” Gonzalez said. “This [the business] helps ease my mind a lot.”

Gonzalez lives with his family, including his dad who is unemployed and his mom who stays home and takes care of his little brother.

“Right now all of us are unemployed, but we have a little savings,” Gonzalez said.

For Garcia, the biggest reward of the pandemic was earning her master’s degree in education and teaching credential. She started her program in August and will begin student teaching in January.

“It was time. Time to do something to secure me in the future and to have a job,” Gonzalez said.

Although Garcia is very busy now—she returned to her full-time job as a teacher’s assistant in addition to obtaining her master’s degree and growing The Vegan Candle.

31-year-old Megan Villa’s stand consisted of print collages featuring images and text, all stored in wooden crates that had been burned with moon-and-star patterns by Villa’s mother.

This was the first time Villa has sold her art to the public, she spends the week as a branch manager at Hertz Rental Car in Burbank. For Villa, the pandemic has helped her refocus priorities and see what is important to her: family, loved ones, and art.

“At the beginning of the year I made a resolution to write a poem a day, and what a year to do that, right? All the change, all the experiences,” Villa said.

The most rewarding part of this time for Villa has been a greater focus on art for herself and others.

“People are finding art and getting more in touch with their creative side,” Villa said.

Overall, she considers the pandemic “a blessing in disguise, but really, just really hard. I’m from LA, and it’s suffocating,” Villa said.

She has found the political unrest to be the most challenging part of these few months.

“I deal with change fine. The hardest thing is seeing people being more separated than coming together,” Villa said.

For Villa’s boyfriend, 41-year-old musician Brian Klock, the pandemic means he’s not playing many shows but has a chance to work on his craft.

“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been,” Klock said.

In addition to practicing, he also teaches music at his home to 10-12 students. Some students are still on Zoom while others attend in-person lessons.

“I like the comfort of home, but I miss the interaction, being one-on-one with students,” Klock said.

While he enjoys the extra practice time, he said “it’s disconcerting, rehearsing a lot but unsure about the payoff. I think there will be more opportunities but I don’t know when.”

Previously, he played with about five different bands and would play at local clubs. Now, he has had a few outdoor opportunities but the options are much more limited.

“I can’t complain though,” he said. Klock’s unemployment income has helped cover the income he has lost from gigs. “I make the same amount of money but work less, and isn’t that what we all want?”

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