If you haven’t been in one before, twelve-step stores tend to be downright dismal. Filled with plastic chips and aphorisms printed onto weird glass mobiles that you’d never buy if you weren’t in a 12-step-store, most of the ones I visited in early sobriety were filled with dust and not much else of note.
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 have to mean The End of Fun.
“I wanted to open the most fabulous, exciting and splashy 12-step store I could,” owner RJ Holguin told me earlier this month. “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 shop celebrating sobriety. And it wasn’t always on Santa Monica Boulevard, either. When Holguin first decided to open a retail space, he found a place on Wilcox in Hollywood and 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 second option. Then he saw a movie that 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.’ And I said, ‘I don’t care’ and started saving up for a down payment.”
To find the right goods, Holguin traveled far and wide—finding out through word-of-mouth where the coolest, most original sobriety promoting products were and visiting multiple states in his quest. Because he had an aesthetic background—he’s the same RJ behind the floral design shop RJ Design—the store 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.”
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.”
Holguin knew the store had made it when it sponsored an Emmy’s party in 2004 alongside Kitson, the L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, and Johnny Walker. The irony of being associated with a scotch company isn’t lost on Holguin. “Remy Martin was one of my biggest clients in my previous business 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.”
Now, nine years later, My 12-Step Store is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a party on Sunday, September 15th from 5-7 p.m. The event will feature a live musical performance and all the profits from purchases made that evening will be gifted to local rehabs and sober living homes. All are welcome—though drunkenness is strongly discouraged.
My 12-Step Store’s anniversary party will be held in the parking lot in front of the store (8730 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood).
Anna David is the CEO/Editor-in-Chief of the addiction and recovery site AfterPartyChat. She’s the author of the novels Party Girl and Bought and the non-fiction books Reality Matters, Falling For Me, and By Some Miracle I Made It Out of There. She speaks at colleges and on TV about addiction and recovery.