Pasadena is home to some of the finest art venues in the greater Los Angeles area. With such a thriving art community, there ought to be some unique, hole-in-the-wall places to find unique brands, right? Look no further than Mills Alley on Colorado Boulevard between De Lacey street and Fair Oaks.Known mainly for its bars – Wokano, Equator, Jake’s Billiards – this hidden gem is also home to two of Pasadena’s hippest, unknown shops.

1. mixi-bang!

“mixi-bang!” is a quintessential urban underground (the store logo is tagged largely on display in the background with the archetypal graffiti font) with Japanese-pop-like fixtures throughout the store. Local to world-famous artists are displayed all over this white-walled heaven for all art enthusiasts.

“We have different types of customers [from] urban vinyl collectors to parents who want to educate their kids with art,” says co-owner Hirono Akahashi.

Opened in 2005, the store has been graced by several prominent artists including Tim Biskup, Joe Ledbetter, Gary Baseman and popular Japanese artist Touma.

Akahashi credits the store’s specialty in customization to its success over the years. Featured in “mixi-bang!” are blank toys – that is, all-white figures with no prior design – for customers to design themselves.

“Some people want limited pieces,” added Akahashi. “Most usually go for the blank box assortments.”

While some like the freedom to add their own art, others are more inclined to purchase limited edition figures specially crafted for “mixi-bang!” In one glass display, there are giant gorillas, which resemble the likes of the cartoons for the band ‘Gorillaz,’ that are special only to “mixi-bang!” According to Akahashi, only 200 of those figurines were manufactured and all can be found there.

But like all rare things, there comes a price. “mixi-bang!” has prices that range from $5 to $850, price varying from the limitedness of the item to the size.

“The least expensive items are the ‘hint-mint’ artist edition series by Gary Basemen ($3), but I don’t count that,” jokes Akahashi.

What she does credit are the ‘Dunny’ figures, a series of little toys that have been custom-made by artists, that are $5 a pop. Much like trading cards, there’s no telling what is inside the box. There are a total of 25 custom-made figures that shoppers can get, with a probability chart on the side of the box indicating the likelihood of what one might find inside. The randomness is what appeals to customers, says Akahashi, since most people buy to collect and trade.

Though “mixi-bang!” seems to cater to urban art, it also offers a series called “ugly doll,” dolls with a not-so-typical appearance.

“Kids love them,” said a smiling Akahashi. Various paintings and prints by Tokidok, and t-shirts by Poketo, a Japanese-based label, are sold there. Likewise, all kinds of art books are available to read or buy.

36 W. Colorado Blvd. #5
Pasadena 91105

Store hours:
Monday (Closed)
Tuesday-Thursday (12:00 – 7:30PM)
Friday-Saturday (12:00 – 8:00PM)
Sunday (12:00 – 7:00PM)

2. Johnson Motor, Inc.

Right next door to “mixi-bang!” is “Johnson Motor, Inc.” Just as it sounds, the store is all about anything with an engine, namely motorcycles, but that’s not all it offers.

Just beyond the leather jackets, the plethora of motorcycle books, hot-rod shirts, and a real Triumph motorcycle on display, is a hidden, yet infamous art gallery/shop dedicated to Tim Biskup. It’s a small area that houses some of Biskup’s works.

“A lot of people – especially art students – come for the Biskup gallery,” said Daniela Barbosa, 25, an employee of the store for more than a year. “We get high school kids, older people and tourists; it ranges.”

Within the walls of the small space are prints and figures that Biskup has worked on, which can either be admired or bought. Vibrant colors dominate the interior, which is a stark constrast to the dark, wooden look of the store’s foreground. Nevertheless, “Johnson Motor, Inc.” is one of the rare places with a Biskup gallery as a permanent fixture, despite its small area.

The gallery appears to be an odd pairing, but it attracts people, says Barbosa.

“That’s the beauty. It brings people that wouldn’t normally come here,” says Barbosa.

The store is heavily decorated with hot-rod art and fashion, which makes it a staple for most biker and car enthusiasts. Books range from the history of the Ford police car, the Shelby Cobra, Ferrari and of course, motorcycles (specialty books like the history of Ducati, off-road motorcycling, and a book that displays the transformation and production of Suzuki bikes from 1952 to 1980, stack the shelves).

Just as it is a store, it is also a museum, says Barbosa. Two authentic Triumph motorcycles are on display inside the store.

“A lot of people come in to see the bikes,” added Barbosa.

The store is very popular on the eastern shores, says Barbosa. Buyers from New York, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, England, and Japan have invested in this store.

Aside from the Biskup gallery, the store carries and displays vintage items. Books are also sold here with Bettie Page, James Dean and Marlon Brando gracing the front covers. Old license plates, vintage oil canisters and signs are also in the backdrop, which makes for a classic trip down a semi-forgotten era.

36 W. Colorado Blvd. #7
Pasadena 91105

Store Hours:
Monday (Closed)
Tuesday-Thursday (11:30 – 6:30PM)
Friday-Saturday (11:30 – 7:00PM)
Sunday (1:00 – 6:00PM)

Pasadena offers many venues to purchasing interesting, appealing art. (Christina Demirchyan)

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