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Eighteen months ago, childhood best friends Anna Dewey Greer and Christine Stormberg moved from Omaha to Los Angeles with an enormous bust of a unicorn, a sculpture made from acrylic hair and enough clothes to open a vintage clothing store.
And that's what they did. Kind of.
They found a former music venue and pottery studio in Echo Park in central Los Angeles and painted the walls so they faded from white to pink to lavender. They installed the hair sculpture, which Greer had made for a show at the Bemis Underground, and used it to display ponytail holders and other accessories. They mounted the unicorn bust — Stormberg's creation — on the building's facade amid a burst of artificial flowers. They stocked their store and figured out how to sew bikinis so they could take orders for custom suits.
They named the shop Dog Show, and it quickly evolved into something that's part vintage clothing and sportswear boutique, part hangout, part multipurpose venue and part opportunity for Greer and Stormberg to express themselves through art, though not in a traditional, art-gallery way.
“We were more interested in the space than the clothes,” said Greer. “We wanted to be open to the public.”
Since it opened in the fall of 2011, they've hosted a viewing party for the web series “Hollywood Nailz,” a launch party for an accessories line and a pop-up shop that specialized in vintage apparel for husky guys. They held a spa day with Stormberg offering haircuts, and they've had numerous craft days that Stormberg said entailed “mostly decorating things with gems.”
People have taken notice. Dog Show has been featured on the feminist website Jezebel.com, as well as in alternative lifestyle magazines VICE and Paper. Last month, LA Weekly featured the women in its annual People issue. Greer and Stormberg shared space in the magazine with 54 other Los Angeles residents including assorted actors, writers, musicians and fashion designers. The LA Weekly story described the shop as “something of a scene.”
“Anna and Tina represent a certain sort of creative energy that's bubbling over in L.A. right now,” LA Weekly Editor-in-Chief Sarah Fenske said in an email. “They came here to do something interesting and creative — and they're doing it with panache.”
For Greer and Stormberg, both 26, Dog Show is a product and an expression of more than 20 years of friendship. The two met in preschool and hit it off then. They attended the same elementary school (St. Margaret Mary) and high school (Marian).
They were always organizing events, said Stormberg's mom, Mary Stormberg. Even as girls, they always came up with elaborate Halloween costumes for themselves and their friends. This was all done in fun — Mary nicknamed the girls the gigglies — but they also were serious about whatever project they were executing.
“They've always just been very deliberate,” she said.
They also always talked about opening a business together. Over the years, they made plans to start a hotel, a house-painting business and a housecleaning business. When they were in their teens, they screen-printed T-shirts to sell on eBay. One said “rabbit + kangaroo = brontosaurus.”
Sales were not impressive.
Greer and Stormberg parted ways for college. Greer attended the Savannah College of Art and Design and Stormberg went to the Kansas City Art Institute. They visited each other frequently, even spending a summer living in a tent in Yosemite National Park. After college, they moved back to Omaha, where they began plotting their next move. They were fairly certain it would be a team effort.
“We knew we were going to do something,” Greer said.
As they waited for inspiration, they converted the attic of the huge midtown apartment they shared into bedrooms (Greer decorated hers in an “I Dream of Jeannie” theme, and Stormberg went with a Barbie birthday party motif, even re-texturizing the ceiling so she could paint it with pastel hearts). That freed up the two other bedrooms for use as an art-studio and walk-in closet, which they referred to as “The Wardrobe.”
The Wardrobe — which resembled a wacky vintage boutique — proved to be the inspiration they were looking for, and they began to plan for an actual shop outside their home. Omaha, they knew, was already brimming with vintage shops, and New York felt wrong to them. But they could see the idea working in Los Angeles — particularly because they also wanted to make swimsuits.
“We didn't overthink it,” Greer said.
They came up with the name almost immediately. In the vocabulary of Greer and Stormberg, “river dog” is a person who feels grimy. “Dog Show” evoked the opposite — a dressed up, fancy kind of dog.
“But it's still a dog,” Greer said.
They picked up second jobs at the Side Door Lounge in Omaha, squirreling all their money away until they had enough to cover Los Angeles rent and living expenses for six months. They supplemented their stock of clothing with the brightest, weirdest secondhand apparel they could find. They took a scouting trip to L.A. and found their shop, which until recently doubled as their home — an arrangement that was sometimes fun and sometimes problematic.
“It was the endless slumber party from hell,” Stormberg said.
It was difficult to think about anything other than the shop when they also lived there. They would sometimes lock the door at night, look at each other, and go back to doing whatever they had been doing before. And they were almost never not together.
They began to refer to “laughing” as “coping,” Greer said.
Greer moved out in December when her boyfriend moved from Omaha to Los Angeles, and this spring, Stormberg moved into a house with several other girls.
And their friendship survived — not that they ever doubted it would.
Dog Show did, too, in an fluid, ever-changing kind of way.
This, too, was part of the plan.
From the beginning, Greer and Stormberg wanted to regularly reinvent Dog Show. For a while, they sold handmade custom bikinis and encouraged visitors to paint their nails at the picnic tables in the center of the shop. Sometimes, Greer and Stormberg hung out in a kiddie pool near Dog Show's entrance. More recently, Greer and Stormberg spent their days in matching velour tracksuits, greeting customers from matching leather recliners, in which they lounged while watching a gemstone encrusted television.
“There's a little performance element to it,” Stormberg said.
They're plotting what they're going to do next. Later this month, Dog Show will move to Sunset Boulevard, to a space Greer and Stormberg described as both “cavelike” and “a dream spot.” They're not getting rich, but they're paying their bills and supplementing their income with freelance work.
Recently, they visited Nebraska, where they attended Greer's sister's wedding, hung out with friends and family, and replenished their stock at various Omaha thrift stores, which are cheaper and less picked over than ones in Los Angeles. Among their finds on a recent trip were a periwinkle satin jacket with flowers embroidered on the back and a crocheted tunic. They're choosy about what they buy, rejecting things for being too expensive, too boring, too scratchy, and too expected.
Stormberg thinks that if their 14-year-old, T-shirt-making selves could see them now, they'd be impressed, and perhaps a bit amazed. A lot of kids talk about opening a business with their best friend. Most don't actually grow up to do it.
Mary Stormberg, who has witnessed their schemes and projects for more than a couple of decades, wasn't surprised.
“It's always amazing to see how they can make things happen,” she said. “I guess there's got to be an element of luck to how much exposure and success they've had in a short time, but on the other hand, it's not luck because they work so hard and the know what they're doing.”
Greer and Stormberg also attribute their success to their friendship. They've known each other forever, they validate each other's ideas, egg each other on and, less often, rein each other in.
“Neither of us would ever do this alone,” Greer said. “It would seem crazy.”
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