Thursday, November 7, 2019
After 20-plus years in the East Village, Obscura Antiques and Oddities is closing
Obscura Antiques and Oddities, a wholly unique and one-of-a-kind shop on Avenue A where you can find an array of curiosities, will by packing up its storefront in the weeks ahead.
"Our lease is up at the end of February and we are a bit burned out," co-owner Mike Zohn recently told me. "The business has changed as has the neighborhood, plus the expense and overhead are high."
Yesterday, EVG contributor Stacie Joy stopped by the shop and talked with Zohn about the decision to close ... and tracked Obscura's East Village evolution.
My first experience with Obscura Antiques and Oddities was in the early 1990s, when it was called Wandering Dragon Trading Company, co-owned by Adrian Gilboe, Mike Zohn and Evan Michelson, in a storefront at 263 E. 10th St.
A few years later it moved across the street to 280 E. 10th St. and became Obscura Antiques and Oddities (incorporating the name 18 years ago last month) before finding its most recent home in 2012 a few blocks away at 207 Avenue A between 12th Street and 13th Street.
It’s been a neighborhood staple for more than a quarter of a century, which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to come to grips with the fact that the shop is shutting its doors. The store will close at the end of this year, with a possibility of limited hours in January to liquidate remaining items before the lease expires in February. Zohn talked with me about the store’s history, why they are closing and what’s next.
The store’s rent, back in the day, was $250 a month, and it was always a party, Zohn says. Cheap rent, parties every night, music, artists, drinking and smoking — a good time. Gilboe eventually moved to Brooklyn and Michelson and Zohn took over the shop, renamed it, and began working in earnest on the business.
The store and its two owners became the subject of a popular Discovery Channel TV series in 2010 called "Oddities" and possibly a victim of its own success.
Oddity-type shops popped up all over, the business changed, and more folks were buying and selling the merchandise. Overhead grew, taxes and regulations went up, and as Zohn points out, the neighborhood changed. Rents increased exponentially and parking became impossible. (Zohn lives in Easton, Pa., and Michelson in Plainfield, N.J., and both need a vehicle to transport goods and commute.)
Even though the store’s East Village front is closing, the shop will still be in existence online, and Zohn will continue to produce his Oddities Market and plans to look into the possibility of pop-up Oddites shops, maybe even the East Village one day.
I spoke by phone to Michelson — home sick, recovering from a recent work trip — about her plans for the future. She says there are a million things that interest her, but she won’t settle on anything until after the closure of Obscura.
She’s a founding member of Morbid Anatomy Museum and a scholar-in-residence at its library, and says she’s comfortable with the decision to close the shop. Although sad, she says that it’s organically time to go, that the world, the East Village and NYC are different now. Michelson saw Obscura as an outgrowth of the East Village performance and underground art scene and is eager to begin her next chapter of life, something experiential, not commercial.
Neither Michelson nor Zohn feel rushed into making this decision and both seem conformable with timing and the process. Zohn notes that if you have always wanted something special from Obscura, like, say, the two-headed cow or genuine human skull or a Freemasons book written in code, now is the time to come by.
In addition, fixtures from the shop will be available for sale. Shop hours are flexible, most likely every day from 12:30 to 8 p.m.
Look for more photos from inside the shop in an upcoming A Visit To ... feature on EVG.