Midnight Pub

I Think About Curio Shops A Lot


I don't just think about them, I dream about them. And when I say "Curio Shop," I don't mean some quaint gift store with marble tiling and some glass cabinets with skeletons. I mean ancient foundations tucked away into dimly-lit alleys under signs that you barely notice. When I think of one of these places, I imagine being greeted, upon entry, by a thousand different sights and sounds- board games, floppy disks without labels, old wooden clocks that are pretty much junk, all arranged in narrow aisles you have to squeeze through. Such an environment would be Paradise.

The closest thing to this is a nearby thrift store I often visit. While its contents aren't nearly as old or obscure as the curio shop in my dreams, it does have VHS tapes, which is the only reason I go to thrift stores. A similar thrift store a few blocks down recently stopped selling VHS tapes, and I spent hours looking around for them. The place had records, it had tons of books, it even had compact cassettes. But no VHS tapes. So, as far as I'm concerned, that place serves no purpose. I guess if someone donates a bunch of VHS tapes to them, they just throw them in the dumpster instead of selling them to people who want VHS tapes, which is the whole purpose of a thrift store.

The thrift store with the better stock does have VHS tapes, and they even have some 8-Track tapes. If a Betamax was donated to them, they'd probably take it. Every so often I see a Digital Audio Cassette on the same shelf as the Compact Cassettes, and I think that's pretty funny, how they can't tell the difference between the two and don't even attempt to separate them. But there's always a really great selection, and I've picked up countless tapes which aren't available anywhere on the Internet. I own hours of exclusive content which nobody else will probably ever see. That's both exhilarating and somewhat unsettling at the same time.

Curio shops have long been a component of folklore. One of my favorite episodes of "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour," and one of the weirdest, is "The Magic Shop." It's about a boy who's obsessed with magic tricks and occult ephemera, so he and his father visit a local parlor of tricks. The owner is an eccentric and threatening bearded lunatic who, after giving them both a brief tour of the shop and a glimpse at the wonders inside, ushers the son into a disappearing booth. The father, enraged, chases the owner around until, in a poof of smoke, the father awakens from a bout of delirium on the street outside. The shop is gone, all evidence of its existence has been removed, and he's carted away in an ambulance. After a long period of confusion, he learns that his son has attained psychic abilities after his experience at the magic shop and beats his parents into a life of submission with his newfound psychic powers. And it just ends like that. It's a strange episode not only because it has explicitly supernatural elements (Alfred Hitchcock episode rarely do) but because the way it's written and told defies explanation. It is deliberately esoteric.

The trope has, of course, found its way into newer media. Everyone can remember the iconic curio shop in 1984's Gremlins, and while the Gremlins and their feeding habits take center stage, the audience is by default attracted to the allure of the curio shop itself, which almost serves the role of a character. The shelves directly behind Mr. Wing, adorned with jewels and glittering ornaments, are a testament to just how extensive they made sets back in the 80s using exclusively practical effects.

The curio shop I imagine is similar to that, undoubtedly in a thick urban haze, explicitly obvious to those who are looking for it yet invisible to everyone going somewhere else. A few neon signs adorn the entrance, and inside the endless recesses are lit only by an uncovered incandescent bulb, which lets out an audible hum. There are more VHS tapes than anyone knows what to do with, unlabeled monstrosities and computer accessories not listed in any catalog. I reach behind the stacks of VHS tapes and there are little wooden drawers with handles. I pull these out and the contents inside are even less comprehensible. Objects upon objects, forever, with no end in sight.

I once skimmed through an old Usenet archive when I was bored, and if I recall it was from around 1991, just a record of some ancient Internet transmissions. Among them was an account of someone who worked at a shipping facility, who one day was asked to inspect the contents of a storage container. They obliged, and upon entering they found themselves face-to-face with ages of objects, entire geologic strata of old plastic trinkets and tchotchkes. The entry proceeds to list, in extensive detail, the contents and just how interesting they all were upon closer inspection. While reading this I was amazed at how similar this wayward Internet traveler's experience was to my own, how their desire and capacity for discovery was as great as mine. It was a grounding experience, to know that 1991 wasn't so different, and that they enjoyed sifting through old bins of garbage as much as I.

While my hypothetical fantasy curio shop remains elusive in my waking hours, and it probably isn't located anywhere near me, I seek it out all the same, because I know such a place must exist somewhere beyond the boundaries of the mind, and that any historical artifact you can imagine is out there somewhere if you keep your eyes open while cruising down the dimly lit and oft neglected streets at 2 A.M. One of these days, I'll catch the shadow of a neon arrow...


It may just be a matter of finding the right antique shop...



<mental note to start referring to the back garage as a 'curio'>

(And, yes.. as a matter of fact it *does* have VHS tapes, goshdangit!)


Love places like that too. There's is (or was..?) a really nice one (by which I mean it had great relics *and* just right light hint of mold/mildew in the air.. <coughs>) in town I've not been to since pre-covid.

Must reinvestigate!



I've never heard of the phrase "curio shop" before, however, when described I immediately knew I love them too.

We have a number of shops like that in Nottingham, one of my local cities.

They are probably not as good as what you have described, but they are fun to explore.

Come to think of it, there are a few interesting shops like this in a number of places around England, maybe it's a tourism thing, perhaps it's because old things are becoming loved again.