The crawling chaos of Bonnie’s slides vertically toward the sky, blocked only by an unfeeling and seemingly eternal ceiling — but today comes the news that there is in fact no forever, not even a tomorrow, for Bonnie’s, a Ventura institution that has for 50 years provided amusements for every conceivable occasion.
Because of a noxious real estate deal, mounting debt and a precipitous drop in sales, the curiosity shop closed in the final hours of 2008. When it began, Bonnie’s opened in the Bobilu Center in Oxnard, moved to Saviers Road, caught fire the day before Mother’s Day in 1988 and moved into the new building in 1994; a second Bonnie’s in the old Mini Cinema building in Port Hueneme folded earlier.
Owner Bonnie Mihalic says, “I’m not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself. I’m going to work and be happy I was here all these years.” She’s the mother (along with six other children, whom she does not tire of trumpeting) of George Thompson, friend in the diamond business for many moons. Now, where will one go when one might need a 10-toucan party light set, or Dilbert© confetti, or a door-to-door gynecologist outfit?
Halloween costumes are the last stop in alternative culture’s trickle-down economy of memes — just as Target sells the leavings of haute couture, Bonnie’s has always featured the family-friendly aspects of punk, BDSM and invasive surgery — although by now they’ve been renamed “Leather & Chains Costume,” “Punk Collar,” “Flapper” and “Adult Jason Voorhees Costume Kit.” The sound of the terminal case in stasis: the occasional wheeze of tanks filling up balloons with helium and the soft padding of feet through the aisles as though the casket is fully open. The store’s scent is a heady mix of cardboard, cold air and momentary desperation — not altogether unpleasant and distinctively unique to Bonnie’s.
Somewhere in China the export industry weeps — even the plastic American flags are made in the inscrutable East, the ultimate haiku of which comes in the form of a baby bottle, wrapped in plastic, marked simply “Toy.” The plastic rat masks are made in Mauritius. Mauritius! Then there is the absurd entry of companies into a novelty business in which they have no business being: Absolut™ snowflakes and commemorative wigs licensed by the Osbourne Family.® Sharon!
The towering shelves are festooned with festive merchandise for holidays that will never come again here — Passover and Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day. In the back of the store, away from the din and the hustle, water gurgles softly through the network of pipes crisscrossing the ceiling, paired with the faint buzz of fluorescent lights. Urban archaeology in excelsis: walking gently through these gates of joy, “Happy New Year 2000” noisemakers, a Raiders piñata that might well date from their Oxnard training camp days and “Batman Forever” flag banners dating from 1995 can still be found.
Next door at Wild Planet, the question is yelled out, “So who killed Bonnie’s — Bush or Ventura?” “Bush!” goes the cheer, and the cashier snickers because he knows that the answer is neither. It was time that killed Bonnie’s. Time and change.
And yet, end times are usually foggy, drab moments that go unseen or otherwise unheralded; one generally expects the end of traditions to be alternately pitch-dark or starkly illuminated affairs.
It’s fitting that Bonnie’s closed on a holiday — New Year’s Eve, the end of all things and the beginning of others — but when that door locked at 6 p.m. it was a cold sound so deeply at odds with the warmth of this city’s institution that there was no laughter, no fun — just sunset and insubstantial shades of grey.