Lawn Gnome set to close location, moving on to next chapter

Aaron Hopkins-Johnson sits in the ticket booth of one of Lawn Gnome’s last open mic events. (Nicole Neri/DD)
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Lawn Gnome Owner Aaron Hopkins-Johnson sat on the benches in front of the Fifth Street book store Thursday reflecting on memories there.

Hopkins-Johnson spent the first months of the store’s existence sleeping in the back of it. He would go on to meet his wife across the street at Jobot and see his daughter take her first steps in the book store, all while hosting community events and becoming a staple of Roosevelt Row.

Soon the store will join a growing list of closures in the area.

Hopkins-Johnson announced on Facebook Wednesday evening that Lawn Gnome will close on April 28. He included a list of memories and thank-yous to those involved in the store.

After Think! burned down, Jobot moved and Flowers closed, Hopkins-Johnson said he noticed a significant decline in traffic on Fifth Street, even on First Fridays. Operating costs became too much, he said.

“When this started, I was a single guy living out of the back of a bookstore,” Hopkins-Johnson said. He said now, his family has to come before keeping the bookstore open.

He said he first started thinking about the possibility of closing as soon as Think! burned down and he started hearing about changes coming to downtown Phoenix “with developers moving in.”

He said writing yesterday’s Facebook post was awful. “Just a flood of memories,” he said.

Hopkins-Johnson said Lawn Gnome will still exist on their website, and some events will move to other spaces, including Lost Leaf, Space 55, Phoenix Center for the Arts, and possibly Trunk Space.

“A lot of our quirky events, rest assured, are still going to go on,” Hopkins-Johnson said.

Hopkins-Johnson also expressed the possibility of opening a different brick-and-mortar store sometime in the future, and said if this happened he would use everything he learned when “working out of a 1930’s bungalow.”

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Hopkins-Johnson said the store had explored the things he loved, including books, writing, performances, social discourse, community, bands, and weird shows centered around Bill Murray.

“We’ve done a lot of passion projects here,” he said. “Not just for myself, but for other people.”

Storyteller Dan Hull produced Yarnball, the weekly storytelling event he hosted in the backyard of Lawn Gnome for five years. Hull said it was the first show he ever produced, and the store became like a second home to him after spending so much time there.

“We all kind of grew together,” Hull said. “We all immediately started doing other shows, too, but we all met there.”

Lawn Gnome sold books, incense, homemade soap, clothes, mugs and other knickknacks. The store hosted comedy, music, burlesque, visual and performance art, and countless quirky events.

“It’s been amazing. That’s the biggest shame,” Lou Moon, comedian and most recent host of weekly open mic comedy event Pink Slip, said. “Pink Slip is hard to define without Lawn Gnome.”

Nicole Underwood, former Director of Operations of Roosevelt Row CDC, said she’s sad about the closing and change is hard, but that “good things are ahead, it’s just taken a while to get used to the idea.”

Underwood said Hopkins-Johnson was “revolutionary in the community,” and that Lawn Gnome in its heyday “just had a magic to it.”

Contact the reporter at Nicole.Neri@asu.edu.

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