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The Curiosity Shoppe

Delights for the Wondrous-Minded

When fellow Banana Slugs Lauren Smith and Derek Fagerstrom met at UC Santa Cruz over a decade ago it was a recipe for magic. The San Francisco natives fell in love and after graduation packed their bags and set sail for New York. Nearly eight years later they decided it was time to leave the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple to return home and channel their creative energies toward what has now become the Curiosity Shoppe: a magical collection of vintage and modern treasures topped off with a lovely window display currently inhabited by… bats!

It was in New York that Lauren and Derek dreamt up the Curiosity Guild, a once-a-month gathering among friends where one person would teach the others a DIY lesson in arts and crafts: a very productive “excuse” to get friends together. Urged by friends to turn these gatherings into paid workshops and classes, they gave it a go but in the end felt it decidedly awkward to charge their friends. Instead they envisioned a space filled with pretty and curious objects to share that would also be home to learning events. Thus the Curiosity Shoppe took form in its first guise: a web storefront.

Lauren and Derek have built up a robust collection at curiosityshoppeonline.com, a site proclaimed to be “crafts, kits & curios for the creatively inclined”, stocking everything from kits that teach you how to make your own radio receiver or pinhole camera and bird, leaf and farm animal decals for jazzing up your dishware to alabaster stag heads (a little less creepy than staring at a taxidermied Bambi) and home decorating touches fashioned after mushrooms. A curious and charming collection indeed.

The Curiosity Shoppe sprouted a new arm as Lauren and Derek worked feverishly towards the culmination of a brick and mortar storefront. With help from friends they transformed what used to be the Valencia Veterinary Clinic into a beautifully cozy and inviting shop that opened its doors to the public on October 4th.

New York artist Shawn Creeden was on hand for his installation of bats -- in stuffed animal, painted and drawn form. Until December 2, the amazingly hand-sewn stuffed animal bats (far more adorable than frightening) hang upside down from real branches strategically strewn throughout the shop. These models of the endangered Rodriguez Flying Fox, Pteropus rodricensis (a type of bat with fox-like features), will be sold for $50 each. Other bat-related items for sale include Shawn’s woodblock prints of bats ($25). A portion of proceeds will be donated to the Bat Conservation Fund.

What else can you expect to find in the Shoppe? Lots of unique and handmade knick-knacks. Says Lauren: “our current obsessions are nature and anything woodland”. This may need to be amended to include mustaches; among the great finds in this department are the Mustache Envy Kit ($8) that comes with three black felt mustaches in the style of Poirot and three slender wooden posts to thread through one end. The mustaches are then “worn” as you would hold a pair of opera or horse-race spectacles. If you want to step it up, check out the hand-carved wooden mustaches available in several colors ($60) and if this inspires you try some wood-carving of your own you will want the very affordable World’s Smallest Whittling Kit ($10). For even further exploration you might pick up How To Do Wood Carving, a digest that looks to be from the 60s, if it hasn’t been whisked away already.

Next to modern arts and crafts books and compilations of artists’ works, Curiosity Shoppe carries a precious selection of vintage books. A brief sampling includes Crewel Embroidery (1962), Natural Collage: The Making of Pictures with Seeds, Leaves and Grasses (1973) and Make it Yourself: The Complete Step-by-Step Library of Needlework and Crafts (1973). But don’t bother inquiring about the amazing Popular Mechanics’ Do-It-Yourself Encyclopedia from 1968; the 16-volume set has already been sold to Lauren’s previous employer, Todd Oldham. Instead, console yourself with an amazing bound book of block prints by Gwen Frostic from the 60s. Her multi-colored, nature-inspired prints are truly lovely.

Lauren and Derek have thoughtfully selected items that are at once delightfully nostalgic and intriguing. Even better, pricing runs the gamut from a couple dollars to a couple hundred to accommodate all wallets, shallow and deep. On the pricier side the chandelier lighting up the store will cost you $500 and a framed colorful screen print of a collection of moths or birds by British artist John Dilnot will set you back $200.

Virtually everything offered in the store is a work of art or encourages you to craft something of your own. With the Mechanical Music Box Set, you can compose your own melodies to be played out on an old-fashioned turn-handle music box. Ties and oven mitts by Deadly Squire are functional yet eye-catching hanging on the wall when not in use.

The set-up of the shop is easily designer-chic and inviting with an endearing window seat nestled in the front next to an old-school card catalog. Each drawer is labeled with a different price ranging from one cent to a couple dollars and each holds treasures awaiting gleeful discovery. Stop to admire the wooden cabinet in the rear: an artfully assembled collection of boxes in varying sizes, each housing an objet d’art.

Situated steps away from 826 Valencia, Paxton Gate, Little Otsu, Needles + Pens and a plethora of vintage furniture stores and book shops, the Curiosity Shoppe is immediately at home and a marvelous addition to an already vibrant neighborhood. With its unique offering it manages to supply enchanting charm without stepping on toes or overlapping with other neighborhood wares.

In keeping with the Curiosity Guild roots, Lauren and Derek are planning classes and workshops to be held in the shop. Last Sunday a few folks from San Francisco’s Bat Conservation Fund stopped by to impart knowledge about the furry creatures -- a perfect instructional complement to the current bat installation. Make sure to add yourself to the mailing list to stay in the loop about future events and art openings.

The Curiosity Shoppe is a fantastic place for finding unique and special gifts, but beware: the threat level of impulsively gifting something to yourself is bound to be quite high.