There’s that moment in Citizen Kane, after Kane has lost it all and he turns to Bernstein, his right-hand man, and Kane says, “If I hadn’t grown up wealthy, I could have been a great man.” It’s a wonderfully odd thing to realize that, if only you hadn’t been given everything in the world, you just might have amounted to something. That’s one way of reading it. In this case, the ultimate answer may, like so much in this film, remain a mystery.
A true curiosity shop is something to behold. Certain things are a given. Antiques. Vintage. Oddities. The magic comes in when you feel that you’ve entered into another world. If you are in Seattle, then you have to go to Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop. I’ve been thinking about doing a post on this shop for a while now. What I’ve always enjoyed about Ballyhoo is its funhouse experience coupled with its orderly presentation. Ballyhoo invites you to discover new and weird stuff while also making it easy to gain access to it. So, see for yourself in person. For now, enjoy my video tour. I welcome your comments, likes, and subscribing:
It’s human nature to want to wander around and explore. Some people take it farther than others. Some people find a particular itch to scratch. What are you in the mood for? Something old with character or something that pushes the envelope? You can satisfy your cravings in so many ways– and with a touch of strange.
Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop
Ryan Robbins, owner of Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop, is a gracious beacon of light. The key to success in any endeavor is passion. That is exactly what Ryan has to share with all of his customers. With palpable enthusiasm, Ryan described his vision for Ballyhoo as evoking the feeling of being in another world, one where anything is possible. Maybe something out of the movie, “Gremlins,” or “Indiana Jones,” or a haunted house in New Orleans.
Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop
Enter Ballyhoo’s wonderland and you’ve entered a tidy collection of stores within a larger framework: nautical, ethnographic, fossils and minerals. The quirky alongside the esoteric. You’ve entered a museum and funhouse.
We want to be taken out of our comfort zone, at least those of us that like to meet at curiosity shops. We want to slip into the unexpected. And we’re smart, very smart, about it. Maybe we get a tattoo at midnight, but it’s something that we’ve been planning on for months, maybe years.
Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop
Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop
Whatever you may end up purchasing at a curiosity shop comes with a certain level of commitment. Are you ready to own a significant piece of taxidermy? Or how about a gem, a print, or a t-shirt? Some of the oddest items get snatched up by bar owners and tattoo shop owners. Other items find homes as much from tourists as from local shoppers. Yes, Ballyhoo has its share of regulars. So, rest assured, whatever your tastes, there’s something for you at Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop, in Seattle’s Ballard Avenue Historic District.
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We say farewell to a true Seattle landmark, the shop that’s catered to a movie lover’s needs since 1977, Cinema Books. It used to be that a sizable part of a fun date in the U-District could take place all on one block. On the corner of Roosevelt and 50th, housed within a structure that looks like it was an old Victorian house at one time, you would have dinner at Ristorante Doria, see a cool indie movie at Seven Gables, and lose yourself amid the stacks of movie memorabilia at Cinema Books.
Cinema Books is shutting its doors. This is its last weekend of sales. The final day is July 15th. I’ve been a Seattle native since 1993 and I would stop by now and then and browse the shelves. I was never a regular visitor but I valued every occasion. I found the owner, Stephanie Ogle, to be quite gracious. And, I suppose, I just took it for granted that the place would always be around. Well, of course, the fate of independent bookstores has become decidedly precarious.
There is simply no other place like Cinema Books in Seattle and nothing on the horizon to fill the void. The amount of material on view is quite staggering. Lately, my schedule has allowed me to stop by and check in on Cinema Books in its last days. It sort of pained me as I watched collectors and enthusiasts pile in and take advantage of the marked-down prices. Here were all these people who had never set foot in the store before and now, like culture vultures, they were leaving with armfuls of books. I could see an uptick in activity with each new visit. Quite frankly, I found myself buying one item and then another and another.
Gwili Andre, “America’s Most Beautiful Model,” 1932
One curious gem led to another. How about a postcard of Gwili Andre? She was known as “America’s Most Beautiful Model” when David O. Selznick brought her to Hollywood in 1932. Alas, after ten films, RKO was unable to turn her into a star. Who Knew? Who will know? Yes, it’s all supposed to be on the internet but you still need to know where to look.
“Screening the Novel: Rediscovered American Fiction in Film” by Gabriel Miller
It is only in such a place as Cinema Books that each new visit is rewarded in unexpected ways. It saddens me that we’re losing this little haven. A haven that offers something precious. Hard-to-find and rare items are simply what they are. There are only so many out-of-print books. And they’re not all on Amazon. For instance, you won’t readily find a book I just bought from Cinema Books. How many places do we still have where you can stumble upon a treat in real time, hold it, examine it, maybe even discuss it a bit with real people in real time? Less and less.
How must Ms. Ogle feel about all of this? I’m sure she was experiencing a sense of loss that she was still processing. And yet, as far as I could tell, she was taking it all in stride.
Judy Garland, “The Wizard of Oz,” 1939
Observing Ms. Ogle with her patrons, it looked like it was business as usual in that moment. For these remaining moments, the show must go on. Judy Garland. Mae West. Marlene Dietrich. German Expressionism. Steven Spielberg. The Bowery Boys. Fatty Arbuckle. Hedda Hopper. Hitchcock. Tarantino. All of Hollywood, all of filmmaking, was still in play in that little store, that little magic shop. You’re looking for an anthology of Hollywood crime stories? Yes, we’ve got it. How about the definitive guide to film from 1946? Yes, it’s still here. All the memories. All the ghosts. Everything still swirling about, still dancing, for the moment.
“Charly,” directed by Ralph Nelson, 1968
One of my purchases was an original movie poster for the 1968 film, “Charly,” starring Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom. I gravitated to the iconic image. I had taken it down from where it was pinned and was about to roll it up when Ms. Ogle quickly said, “No!” I waited for her next move. “You want to fold it up at the creases. That’s how the studios used to send posters to the theaters. It will keep best that way. Once you’re ready to hang it up, then you can smooth out the creases.” I gratefully followed her advice. Another treasure safely made its way out the door.
Perhaps the sense of loss was outweighed by a sense of freedom. All those items, all that clutter, would soon be gone. It brings to mind the recent collective sigh from the media at the sight of the entire set to “Late Show with David Letterman” in a dumpster. Heck, where was it supposed to go? Well, in the heat of the moment, no one had planned for that. Things change. Things need to go. Decisions need to be made. Either someone walks away with it or it needs to be demolished. We move on.