Retail: What Price Irony?

On a recent afternoon in Park Slope, a father and son stopped at an unmarked store window at the quiet southern end of Seventh Avenue to admire a five-and-a-half-foot-tall corkscrewed train set. The boy began jumping up and down – “Daddy, I want a train! Will you get me a train?”

“I don’t know what they sell here, son,” the man said. “But they don’t sell train sets.”

The tiny former locksmith’s shop is crammed floor-to-ceiling with a menagerie of oddities, including pewter birds’ claws, boxes of small rubber cubes, “male” and “female” gavels, and eyeless white taxidermy mannequins of curious weasels. Identical cans of Sullivan’s Tail Adhesive are tagged at $25.99, $10, and $3.50.

What the store’s peddling isn’t so much unusual merchandise as a kind of Fluxus whimsy, the self-described “goofy optimism” promoted by Dave Eggers in his literary journal, McSweeney’s. And in fact, Amie Barrodale, the store’s shy 24-year-old proprietor, is a McSweeney’s assistant editor. “Did you see this diorama?” Barrodale asks, pointing to an aquarium-size display entitled Police Officers Walking on Water. It’s not for sale. But you can rent Tip-Toe dancing shoes, which have the heel on the toe, by the half-hour. Or storage space for “physical education documents.” There’s also a lost-and-found for gloves. Small signs gleefully make pronouncements like policy: dioramas are for silent enjoyment. no commenting please. Or: no child lifting. no exceptions!

Barrodale has feverishly worked on the store for five months, culling stock from the Internet and specialty magazines, with some help from Eggers and McSweeney’s interns. Not everybody in the neighborhood gets it. “The locksmith told some people I was part of a cult,” she says, sighing.

There are no signs in the window and no plans to advertise. (At first, Barrodale tried to ward off New York’s photographer by putting three closed signs on the door.) The store says that its ideal customer is “a 13-year-old kid who listens to music with headphones on. Or people who read the encyclopedia. The wrongly imprisoned.” But, Barrodale says, “I’m most excited about the people who wander in here and don’t know what’s going on.”

Retail: What Price Irony?