12-Step Stores Get Fabulous
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12-Step Stores Get Fabulous


This post was originally published on September 11, 2013.

12-step stores don’t tend to be all that exciting.

You could say, in fact, that 12-step stores tend to be downright dismal. Filled with plastic chips and aphorisms printed onto, say weird glass mobiles that you’d never buy, most of the ones I visited in early sobriety were filled with dust and nothing I’d ever want to buy.

A Beacon in the Storm

Then, when I was five or so years sober, I stumbled onto My 12-Step Store, a colorful shop smack in the middle of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Suddenly, I was in sober heaven—surrounded by cards and t-shirts and games that were vibrant and funny and seemed to embrace the idea that sobriety didn’t mean the end of fun.

“I wanted to open the most fabulous, exciting and splashy 12-step store I could,” explains owner RJ Holguin. “I wanted a store that celebrated recovery and didn’t make you feel like it was a death sentence.”

The 400-square-foot space wasn’t always destined to be a 12-step store. And it wasn’t always on Santa Monica Boulevard, either. When Holguin first decided to open a shop, he had a space on Wilcox in Hollywood and he thought it might be a smoke shop. (“I smoked cigarettes then,” he confesses.) He got over that idea but thought maybe a mailbox store would be a good plan. Then he saw a movie—he can’t actually remember which one—which posed the question: if you could do anything in the world, what would it be?

“I immediately knew the answer,” Holguin says. “I was always driving sponsees around for chips and medallions. Everyone said, ‘That’s crazy, don’t open up a 12-step store—it’ll never work.’ I said, ‘I don’t care’ and started saving up for a down payment.”

Mining for 12-Step Gold

To find the right goods, Holguin traveled far and wide—finding out through word-of-mouth where the coolest, most original products that promoted sobriety were and visiting multiple states in his quest. Because he had an aesthetic background—he’s the RJ behind the much-lauded floral design shop RJ Design—the store design came together fairly quickly. “We got the outside of the store in shape—it looked fabulous and colorful and was fantastically decorated—but there wasn’t enough product in it,” Holguin admits. “It was a good metaphor for sobriety: we needed to work on the insides. So then I re-evaluated and looked for anything I could find that improved your life—every AA book that existed and every gift and shirt I could locate. I searched high and low until I found everything I wanted.”

To promote the shop, Holguin began handing out postcards at coffee houses and even shipping free merchandise to people he thought might like certain things. And his efforts didn’t stop there. “If I heard a speaker at a meeting, I might give him something from the store,” he says.

Star Power

The store moved to its current location in 2006, attracting far more foot traffic and, in turn, thrilling those who just stumbled upon it. “Some people have walked in and just started crying,” Holguin says, “while others tell me they traveled from far away; some foreigners have told me that the store was one of their points of interest when they came to the United States.” But Holguin really knew the store had made it when it sponsored an Emmy’s party in 2004 alongside Kitson, L’Ermitage hotel and Johnny Walker. The irony that making it involved a scotch company isn’t lost on Holguin. “Remy Martin was one of my biggest clients in my previous business [RJ Design] and I loved that we got the shelves that I now use in the store through them,” he says with a smile. “They essentially sponsored the shelves that would later house sober merchandise.”

Perhaps the real day My 12-Step Store made it, however, was one when none other than Lindsay Lohan was being chased down Santa Monica Boulevard by the paparazzi. “We helped her hide from the photographers,” Holguin says, “and since she was sober then, she bought a pair of “Clean” underwear—which made it into In Touch magazine.

My 12-Step Store is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Sunday, September 15th from 5-7 pm in the parking lot in front of the store (8730 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood). The event will feature a live musical performance and all the profits from purchases made that evening will be given to local rehabs and sober living homes. All are welcome—though drunkenness is strongly discouraged.

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About Author

Anna David is the founder and former CEO/Editor-in-Chief of After Party. She hosts the Light Hustler podcast, formerly known as the AfterPartyPod. She's also the New York Times-bestselling author of the novels Party Girl and Bought and the non-fiction books Reality Matters, Falling For Me, By Some Miracle I Made It Out of There and True Tales of Lust and Love. She's written for numerous magazines, including Playboy, Cosmo and Details, and appeared repeatedly on the TV shows Attack of the Show, The Today Show and The Talk, among many others.