Topanga Mercantile

Dinah Englund & Tom Bar

When Tom Vogel and Dinah Englund established Topanga Mercantile in 2016, Canyon Courtyard wasn’t the beautiful space it is now. The area beside the Topanga General Store was known as “The Ghetto”—frequented by drug users and fights were a regular occurrence.

“We knew we had to change the vibe,” said Englund. “So, we strung lights, put furniture and plants outside and got more retailers to come in. Once the scenery changed, the whole vibe changed and the meth heads stopped coming. It’s the space I always imagined it could be,” she said.

The couple began their business as the Topanga Candle Company, but has now expanded to sell jewelry, crystals and items made mostly by local artists. Topanga Mercantile is now a gift shop selling beautiful things at reasonable prices, but their candles—created on the premises by master candlemaker Vogel—remain their biggest seller, along with crystals and CBD oil made from hemp.

Englund can vouch for the CBD oil’s efficacy. Her mother, Oscar-winning actress Cloris Leachman, suffered three mini-strokes when she turned 80. “They affected her personality and she felt like she had a weight around her head,” said Englund. “After two weeks of the CBD oil, Mom was standing straighter, happier and said the weight around her head had lifted.” Leachman, now 91, lives with the couple in Topanga.

Englund used to go antiquing with her mother and grandmother and learned to appreciate beautiful things. “Good taste runs in my family,” she said. She was a singer-songwriter before becoming “heartbroken” with the music industry and left. Next came culinary school and a gig as private chef to billionaires, “until I thought I should be eating with them, not cooking for them.” So that didn’t last long,” said Englund, who grew up on film sets with her mother and travelled the world. She considers the thousands of dollars the couple spent making the courtyard look wonderful was money well spent. “It feels like this store is a complete amalgamation of all I am,” she said.

Vogel has been making candles for 22 years. He loves them. “I used to go camping a lot and everybody stared into the flickering flames of the fire,” he said. “I think a candle draws you in the same way. There’s a warmth to it.”

His candles are made from either soy or paraffin using one of four signature fragrances. “After experimenting with every wax there is, I like to use soy for the metal and glass containers. It’s nice and creamy and throws the fragrance,” he said. “For the stand-alone candles, I use a clean 100-percent refined paraffin that also throws the fragrance very well.”

He holds candle-making classes in the courtyard, teaching five different techniques. After the two-hour class, participants take home what they’ve produced.

“Candles shouldn’t make smoke,” said Vogel. “A smoking candle means it’s made from inferior wax, synthetic fragrance or not with a cotton wick. I have 18 different kinds of wick, depending on the size of the candle and if it’s fragranced or not. Our fragrances are blended with 100-percent organic essential oils.”  

The candles cost from $11 to $1,100. Their biggest and most expensive candle is in a big old ammunition container. It has 32 wicks, 74 pounds of soy wax and 4,300 hours of burn time. They’ll refill the containers for a fraction of the cost. “Re-use and recycle is our motto,” said Englund.

Vogel also built the bar outside their store. The plan is to start selling specialist teas there. “If it’s happy hour and someone wants a glass of wine, we’ll serve them one,” said Englund. Topangans are welcome to sit in the courtyard and enjoy the space with no obligation to buy.

Canyon Courtyard is already full of wonderful stores and creative spaces: Topanga Art & Tile, Corazon Performing Arts Studio, The Vanity Room Salon & Barber Shop, Animal Clinic, Epiphany Music, Be Love boutique, the 131 nightclub and event space, and the Topanga Creek General Store, with plans to open more and expand the area.

Canyon Courtyard’s annual holiday event takes place on Saturday, December 2, from 2-7 p.m.. There will be food vendors, live music and a bar. All free, but shoppers are encouraged to buy a raffle ticket for a huge basket filled with candles and other goodies. This will be a festive and fun chance for Topangans, their families and friends to gather, be merry, shop for holiday gifts, and see the new and vastly improved Canyon Courtyard.


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Claire Fordham

Fordham worked for the BBC, ITN and Sky News in the UK and wrote a weekly anecdotal column for Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper, The Sun. She currently writes regularly for Huffington Post, The Malibu Times and the Messenger Mountain News. See "A Chat with Claire Fordham" on this website under Podcasts.

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