The Liquor Store Proprietor

Image for post
Image for post
Tommy Bina, owner of the Laurel Canyon Country Store in Los Angeles.

Tommy Bina is owner of the legendary Canyon Country Store. Located halfway up Laurel Canyon, the store was immortalized by The Doors in the song Love Street as the “store where the creatures meet.” It was originally built in 1908 as a lodge for local hunters and was accessible only by trackless trolly. The lodge burnt down in 1929 and was rebuilt using brick and stones from a river that flowed near Laurel Canyon.

The Country Store became the center of the Los Angeles counter-culture hippie movement. Jim Morrison and girlfriend Pamela Courson lived in a house adjacent to the store in the early 60s. The store’s outdoor patio became an impromptu stage for jam sessions featuring canyon denizens Frank Zappa, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell and Cass Elliott. While living in the Canyon, Joni Mitchell wrote Ladies of the Canyon and Graham Nash wrote Our House. Mama Cass lived in the store’s basement when she moved to Los Angeles.

Tommy bought the store in 1982 and quickly became a staple of Laurel Canyon life. He loves to tell the story about the time a stylishly-dressed man came in asking for “Flakes,” a British candy bar. When Tommy realized the man was David Bowie he began stocking the chocolate. He added “English Kit Kats” for Mick Jagger and specialty French wines for actress Christina Applegate.

Jennifer Aniston was a cashier at the store before her acting career took off. Robert Blake, in an effort to quit smoking, kept an open pack of cigarettes behind the front counter. He asked the staff to dole them out to him, one per visit. The store has become a spot where wealthy music & film celebrities do their local shopping. When film director Werner Herzog asked Tommy why the milk was so expensive, Tommy responded, “Don’t ask me, I don’t shop here.”

Every year, Tommy gathers locals in front of the store for the annual “Canyon Photo day.” Tommy can also be seen on Sunday mornings with a garbage bag in hand cleaning trash from the Canyon streets. The store remains much like it was in the 60’s and Tommy is the eclectic steward of Laurel Canyon history.

Written by

Loren is a writer and woodcut artist based in Los Angeles. He teaches printmaking and creative writing to kids and adults.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store