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Topanga Mercantile: A Love Story

Special To Topanga Journal

The following is a love story. When she first saw him, Dinah Englund fell in love with Tom Vogel. He was a candlemaker, and of the opposite political party. He grew up with structure, she in a boundary free environment. He was born on the East Coast, she on the West. Vogel is a hard facts kind of guy. Englund, the daughter of Cloris Leachman, believes in the universe. Somehow these two are soulmates. The one thing they have in common is an incredible attention to detail in the creation they make together and in the journey on their love story.

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

“I knew I had to find a way to hook him,” Englund said. “I knew it had to be with candles. It took me a year and a half to figure it out. Then I finally came up with this idea. What if we made candles in vintage containers? He thought that was a good idea. That’s were the whole thing started.”

” What if we made candles in vintage containers? He thought that was a good idea. That’s were the whole thing started.” Dinah Englund

Englund recounted how the pair built their business from her kitchen where it grew into a tiny 10 by 12 shed in the back of their place in Topanga when they moved in together. Vogel fixed the shed up into a candle shop so they could work out of it. 

“When we had large orders we’d have the table out in the backyard, so we could put the inventory there while I was making candles inside the shed,” said Vogel while the romance of their first days there was in both their eyes as they laughed. 

“We decided we needed to go somewhere else. We wanted to be here on the boulevard, but we couldn’t,” said Englund. “It just wasn’t happening. No matter how I tried. Then we ended up in a beautiful place. It used to be Ribbit Nursery. Then it became Old Canyon Ranch. There was this beautiful building someone had put there that looked like a glass house. But it was in the middle of nowhere.”

Englund recounted how they shut that place down, and they ended up in someone’s garage. That’s where Vogel renovated a two car garage into another candle studio. That worked out well for awhile. Englund kept trying to get their candle shop on Topanga Canyon Boulevard without success. Finally the middle space on the ground floor across from the General Store opened up. 

“I kept thinking I don’t want to be in the ghetto. I don’t want to be down here. I want to be up there,” said Englund pointing across the boulevard. “I started waking up at night saying oh my god. I see the whole thing. As you know this whole center, people kept trying to make it happen, but it just took us pouring in a lot of our own money, and we kept throwing festivals and not taking no for an answer until it became a really pretty place.”

The couple broke through a wall in their shop and are building a candle bar in the space next to theirs. Customers can come and create their own candles with scents and be creative or zenful and bring that energy home with them. The shop has been completely renovated. It is bright, airy and full of every kind of candle to suit whatever need. 

“It was much more of a movement than just having a shop,” said England. “I think it is the most beautiful commercial real estate in Topanga. Tom makes all the candles here.  We’re pushing the whole bar back. It is going to be a candle bar where you can come and make your own, put your fragrance in, choose what you like and have a master teach you. We can book events there. We’ll have Topanga Mercantile there which is a lot of beautiful local artists. I like to curate beautiful things.”

The candle bar can be for an individual, or an event like a birthday party where you can rent out the whole place. Participants can make candles and drink wine, or tea and coffee, during festivities. Also along the way the couple have been throwing candle making classes. Vogel has taught Shimon, who is the Justin Bieber of Japan, how to make candles.

Prior to this version of Topanga Mercantile, there was a previous Topanga Mercantile in the history of Topanga. Englund tells us of its past. 

“Where Coast and Canyon is now is where Heyoka Hideout was. Then it was Dust and Fog. Now it’s going to be changed over to something else. That was the original Topanga Mercantile,” said Englund. “ We didn’t know that until a woman came in one day with a postcard of the original Topanga Mercantile.”

The original Topanga Mercantile was a store that sold a little bit of everything. The washed out picture on the postcard showed a couple of chairs, a couch, lamp, sconce, rug and plates, as though they were selling a little bit of everything, said Vogel. That version of Topanga Mercantile existed in the 1970s. 

“Saturdays and Sundays we always have teas, tonics and live bands,” Englund said.

“Colin Hay, the lead singer from Men At Work, came down and sang with this famous Latino band that was here. The place went crazy,” said Vogel. 

“Topanga is going through another sort of Renaissance,” said Englund. “We hit here on the ground floor.”

“I’d like to emphasize prior to what we’ve done here, this place was a disaster. It was ugly,” said Vogel. “There were homeless encampments. So nobody came here. Dinah saw there was potential. She had the balls enough to say OK, we’re going to move in here. We’re going to slowly start putting in our own money and time. Everything you see here that’s not brick or mortar, has been done by Dinah and I with our money to beautify it. We love Topanga as a community.”

After the conversation had progressed for some time, the topic of feminism came up. When asked if she was a feminist, Englund first asked what is a feminist? So a basic definition of feminist was given: women should have equal opportunity as men in the workplace, in the arts and under the law. 

“I don’t even know why we are still having this conversation,” said Englund. “Everybody should be treated equally. That’s all there is to it. You can call yourself whatever you want, but at the end of the day everybody should be treated the way everyone wants to be treated, fairly. I don’t know that a label-”

“Unfortunately that’s not happening. That’s why there’s discussion and movements,” said Vogel.

“I hope the people who have the energy to make that happen can. I don’t live in that world. I choose not to. I’d rather create my own existence. That way I don’t have to answer to or be told what to do. I don’t like being told what to do, probably because I have so many brothers,” said Englund. 

Of all the interviews for this issue, it was a light in much darkness that England hadn’t really experienced that much discrimination in her lifetime. She had chosen to create a world for herself that didn’t include labels or the influence of those who chose to hold her back. Even reaching far back in her story, she is a free spirit. It’ll be a good day for women when there are more stories like hers.


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