LONG BEACH — Hot Stuff — the iconic, 38-year-old queer gift shop — was destroyed by a fire last month, but owner Barbara D’Alessandro salvaged enough merchandise to operate a pop-up store for several consecutive weekend starting Saturday and Sunday.
The Great Fire Sale, as D’Alessandro calls it, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days on the sidewalk outside Hot Java, the neighborhood’s queer centric coffee shop and Hot Stuff neighbor on the Broadway Corridor at Cherry Avenue.
D’Alessandro also has some interesting plans on re-opening Hot Stuff in the spring as more than a gift shop, but more on that later.
HOT STUFF POP-UP
At the pop-up store, D’Alessandro will sell Christmas cards, candles, gag gifts, and fun stocking stuffers.
Ken Davis, who co-owns Hot Java with Sergio Macias, said it’s important to help D’Alessandro and Hot Stuff.
“The shop is important. Barbara is important. That’s why we gave her the space,” Davis said in an interview. “Hot Stuff is iconic. It’s where people would go to see themselves represented.
“It’s important that our gay spaces stay open,” Davis said. “I take a lot of pride in being a part of this block and a part of the community.”
Fire investigators don’t know the exact cause of the blaze that happened at Hot Stuff last month, but Jake Heflin, a spokesman with the Long Beach Fire Department, said nothing indicates the fire was suspicious.
D’Alessandro said investigates told her that the blaze started in a backroom attic, most likely at an electric box that had been covered by drywall, and smoldered for a few hours before spreading into the store.
After the fire, D’Alessandro and to file an insurance claim. She spent about two weeks, six hours a day, searching and combing through her inventory, much of it covered in ash. In all, about 70 percent was destroyed.
“After 38 years, it was my second loss,” said D’Alessandro, whose brother, Tony, opened the store in 1980 and died in 1997. “It’s a devastating feeling. It’s been a nightmare. It’s like another death.
“When I see the shop, I see the history, the stories. The spirit is the shop,” she said. “It’s been a lifeline for many people, including myself.”
GAY SHOPPING AREA
Hot Stuff opened in 1980, two years after disco diva Donna Summer dropped her mega popular dance track “Hot Stuff.” Tony D’Alessandro was inspired by the song name and called his business Hot Stuff.
The retail shop courted LGBTQ customers with its with edgy greeting cards, gifts, and novelties, items that could only be purchased in West Hollywood.
Hot Stuff also was noticeable for its hot pink and black awning and gay pride waving from the roof.
D’Alessandro, 59, moved to Long Beach in 1980 when she was 21 to help her brother and his partner with the store.
“I moved out here in 1980 when I was 21 to help my brother and his partner,” said D’Alessandro, 59. “They started the shop at the same time a group of entrepreneurs wanted to build a shopping neighborhood for gay and lesbians. There was no place to go like West Hollywood.
“They didn’t compete,” she said. “It was a network that brought everybody together. We had a sense of community.”
After Tony died in 1997 from AIDS complications, D’Alessandro kept the store open.
“I kept it going partly because it was so much of my life and partly to keep his memory alive,” she said.
HOT STUFF TO RE-OPEN
D’Alessandro will re-open Hot Stuff in the spring in time for Long Beach Pride, she said.
The build will be demolished and a new one built in its place, and D’Alessandro wants to keep the hot pink and black sign.
A new chapter in Hot Stuff’s history will rise from the ashes, she said.
“I’m going to re-open Hot Stuff. I am so committed to that shop, but it will be different,” D’Alessandro said. “It’s not just about a gift shop. It’s more than a business. It’s about connection and community.
“The next Hot Stuff will be a different space. I hope to create atmospheres with events that will bring people out to interact with each other,” she said. “It will be geared to getting out and about.
“We need gay spaces,” D’Alessandro said.
Phillip Zonkel can be reached at 562-294-5996 or firstname.lastname@example.org