Alban Odoulamy has been running Puppet Heaven, or puppet shops by other names, in Crystal City for 18 years, but his heart isn’t in it like it used to be.
Odoulamy emigrated to the U.S. in the mid-1990s from the small, French-speaking West African country of Benin, where he had worked in production and set design for children’s programming for the state-owned television station. He had been formally trained in Marionette puppetry — the puppets controlled by strings — and worked under a master puppeteer until he came here, where he worked as a concierge for Charles E. Smith before its merger with Vornado.
A year after starting his new job in his new country, he saw a vacant shop in a nearby alley and decided to turn it into his own puppet store and workshop, calling it La Marionette. The shop has moved and changed names twice before finding a permanent home in the Shops at 1750 Crystal Drive, as Puppet Heaven.
Odoulamy is not a shop owner by trade, however. He’s a puppeteer, and he’s done shows around the country — around the world, if you count his home country — but he can’t do them right now.
“I miss the shows,” he said, with the remnants of his French accent still very present in his voice. “Doing them is a full-time job. You have to create your characters, your script and your set. It’s not easy. I was trained to do shows in a studio for television; it’s not like some guy on the street.”
Odoulamy used to have two employees to work the shop while he performed, but business has slowed in recent years. Now, it’s just him, opening the shop at 10:00 a.m. six days a week and closing at 7:00 p.m. (6:00 p.m. on Saturdays).
Odoulamy said he approached Vornado a few years ago and told them he was considering closing his shop. To convince him to stay, he said, they gave the shop a renovation. Plus, he says, his shop now has a legacy of customers since it opened in April 1996.
“Just the other day, I had these 23-year-old girls come in the shop and say ‘hi,'” he said. “I didn’t recognize them, but they told me they were two of the first customers at La Marionette and showed me the picture. I love that.”
Odoulamy is 55 now, and he doesn’t know how much longer he wants to keep the shop, despite his loyalty to Vornado/Charles E. Smith. On the contrary, he cherishes each customer who comes in and wants to buy a puppet for their children or themselves.
“I want to keep the tradition of a puppeteer and keep the art alive,” he said. “Everyone enjoys puppets. People still come in and buy Elmo puppets. Some people come in and see the Lamb Chop and they start crying.”
When he goes home every night — just a few blocks away, since he lives in Crystal City — he’s working on a new show, building a new theater and making new puppets.
“I’ve been doing puppets for 31 years,” he said. “I feel like I want to start over. Parents call me all the time and ask me to do shows and I don’t have time. The show is in my heart now, but I want to do it again.”
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Arlington and its neighbors have become more segregated in the last 10 years while fair housing legislation at the state level faces significant roadblocks. Arlington’s fair housing enforcement, education, and commitment to equity practices in housing policy and programs are beginning to show signs of improvement but much more needs to be done.
Join the NAACP Arlington Branch, HOME of Virginia, and Equal Rights Center for the 2nd Annual Arlington Fair Housing Conference on April 15th to discuss the threats and opportunities to advancing fair housing policy across the state and within Arlington.
The half-day, in-person event will feature speakers from fair housing advocacy organizations and government agencies including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and focus on fair housing policy trends in Virginia and Arlington County. The conference aims to advance the understanding of issues and policies related to equity and affirmatively further fair housing among local officials, advocates, and members of the public.
2nd Annual Arlington Fair Housing Conference
Is home ownership a goal of yours in 2023? Now is the time to make it happen! Grab a (virtual) drink with the area’s top Real Estate experts, learn all about the home buying process and on how you can get $1,500 towards your closing costs immediately!
Did you know the average Arlington renter will spend $150K in 5 years of renting? Stop paying down someone else’s mortgage! Join us for a Rent vs. Buy Happy Hour on Wednesday, April 5th at 6 p.m. via Zoom. If this time doesn’t work, we also are offering times convenient for your schedule!
A lot has happened in the local market since the beginning of the pandemic. Sip on your drink of choice and learn from Northern Virginia, Arlington and Washingtonian Magazines top producing agents! We will discuss the latest market updates, the home buying process and rent vs. buy cost savings. Please RSVP by clicking here.
Call/text Manavi at 703-869-6698 with any questions!
Private School Fair
Congressional School to Host MONA Private School Fair Thursday, April 27 at 6:30 PM
Congressional School in Falls Church, VA is delighted to host the MONA (Mothers of North Arlington) at an upcoming Private School Fair. Private schools from around
WHS Spring Festival
Join us at the WHS Spring Festival on April 22, 2023, from 10am- 3pm at Wakefield High School(main parking lot). Come out to shop, play, and eat!
Shop local vendors, arts & crafts, new and used items, food vendors/trucks, and