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Lawn Gnome Becoming

The Front Lawn Of Phoenix

Lawn Gnome Book Store Located in Downtown Phoenix. Photo by Ben Garcia.
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Colleen Lacy and Karina Sanchez of Lawn Gnome Publishing sort through new books for the store's inventory. Photo by Ben Garcia.
Customer Devon Johson browses the selection. Photo by Ben Garcia.
Founder Aaron Johnson Has Not Only Created A Unique Space That Offers Not Only Books And Music, But A Spot That Is Rapidly Becoming The Center Of Downtown Phoenix


By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine

Dec. 29, 2012 — Part used bookstore, part all ages venue, part community space; Lawn Gnome Publishing is a one-stop culture shop.

Located at 905. N Fifth Street in a repurposed house built in 1930, Lawn Gnome hosts Phoenix’s only poetry slam every Thursday, as well as an all-ages event just about every day of the week.

Monday at 8 p.m. is “Pink Slip” open mic at Lawn Gnome, which according to owner Aaron Johnson is Lawn Gnome’s biggest weekly event regularly attracting over 100 people.

“It’s just like a job or responsibility, ‘We’ve given you your pink slip, now it’s time to do your part,’” said Johnson.

Every participant is afforded about three minutes on Lawn Gnome’s backyard stage to perform, and the event attracts both regulars like singer/guitarist Daggar Pan of Phoenix rock band Neurotic Pleasures, and popular local poet Mio.

As well as one-timers and people passing through like Synrgy frontman Brian Zach, who not only played the open mic but actually introduced some of his new tracks to the crowd of 80 at the Dec. 17 open mic.

Tuesday’s event du jour is “Books and Beakers,” a weekly science café which starts at 7 p.m.

For the event, Johnson and the rest of his Gnomes try to invite a reputable expert to the store to speak on the topic which they are an expert of.

The last Books and Beakers event featured Ira Bennett the co-leader of ASU’s informal science communication graduate program, and he spoke on nanotechnology.

The environs of a bookstore make for the perfect house for a weekly all ages science based educational event.

Wednesday is “Yarn ball storytelling,” named such “because you know, telling a story, spinning a yarn,” said Johnson.

Participants in the Wednesday’s event do exactly what the name of the event implies: they get on stage and tell a story in front of the audience.

Often the event will also come with a theme, such as the Christmas Day theme, “Gratitude.” All of the yarn spinners will be telling a story about someone they feel has helped them along the way.

Thursday is reserved for the poetry slam, and though open mic may be the biggest event, poetry slam may be the most prominent because Johnson is a former nationally competing slam poet.

Lawn Gnome also sponsors a slam poet national team, which almost made the semi-finals of last summer’s national competition.

“The common misconception is that ‘slam’ is a style of poem. It’s not. It’s not angry poetry that’s done really fast or sounds like hip-hop. It can be any kind of poem as long as it’s under three minutes and 10 seconds when you perform it,” said Johnson.

Fridays are open for special events such as the Dec. 5 Solidarity with the Environment benefit concert, or their mid August date with punk band Andrew Jackson Jihad.

Every third Saturday is Lawn Gnome’s hip-hop show “Live at the Barbeque,” which is streamed live to the internet every month.

“The show usually ends by about 9:30 and then it just becomes like a DJ dance party,” said Johnson.

Every other Saturday remains open for special events, and booking the Gnome is as easy as emailing and hoping that there is an open day because the store’s popularity is growing rapidly.

The store even attracted world-renowned poet Saul Williams, who performed a mid-October spoken word set in the back yard with the Phoenix skyline framing the entire scene.

Johnson and his Gnomes are always looking for new performers to come down and share with the Fifth Street community, and are constantly looking for hosts and DJs for all of the weekly shows. To volunteer, simply email the Gnomes, go to their facebook page, or stop by 905 N. Fifth Street in downtown Phoenix.

Lawn Gnome Publishing's selection of magazines. Photo by Ben Garcia.

“Originally I opened Lawn Gnome just to sell ‘zines, and then used books came in to add legitimacy to the ‘zines, so you can buy Kevin Patterson in the same place you buy Kurt Vonnegut,” said Johnson.

And besides just paperback versions of Tom Clancy and Stephen King, Lawn Gnome also carries some heavy hitters.

“We have three books on display at the rare book room at the central library, Burton Barr, and that’s the first English translation of The Divine Comedy by Dante. But the translation was done by U.S. poet Laureate Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and it was printed in 1867. Someone donated it, all three of them, and they’re in amazing condition. They were sitting in a crate in front of the store one morning, like the first month we opened,” said Johnson.

Though The Divine Comedy is the rarest of the books, Gnome still carries many other more affordable titles that could not be found anywhere else in the valley to go along with an extensive collection of local ‘zines, art, and music.

There is also more than one way to make a purchase at Lawn Gnome. Of course they take credit and cash, but they also take trade-ins and volunteer hours at the store can earn you a good read.

“The store is a beacon of light in a dark, dark world,” said Johnson’s fiancée Casey Hopkins, “but I never get to see him anymore.”

Lawn Gnome is open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. six days a week and from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Sundays.

Jeff Moses is a freelance writer and photographer from Teaneck, N.J. and is currently living in Mesa, Ariz. He has been published in The Mesa Legend, and The Highway Herald. Contact him by calling 727-385-0624.

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