When the bell jingles above the door at Captain Bizzaro's Treasure World, the customer walking in could be anyone, from a neighborhood regular browsing through vintage records to a retired professor hunting for an obscure collector's item. And that's just the way owner Tim Garrod likes it.
Garrod, 48, opened Captain Bizzaro's in November after reading an article about estate sale services in the Grand Rapids Press and realizing that 4,000 square feet of empty space next door to his other Leonard Street store, Flashback, would be the perfect location for just such an indoor flea-market-type enterprise.
"It was a lightbulb moment," he says of the space at 442 Leonard NW. "I already had product that I knew would sell and familiarity with the neighborhood, so I crossed my fingers and went for it."
Garrod dreamed up the name, inspired by his love of pirates, after "one minute of brainstorming" and began advertising in local papers for vendors to help fill the store's shelves and display cases. He passed out fliers and even hired an eager customer to stand on Leonard Street in a chicken costume, holding a sign and moon-walking on the sidewalk.
Grand Rapidian Jack Dillard, 59, saw one of those ads. A retiree and an avid estate sale junkie, Dillard would often buy entire estate sales at the end of the sale, and he'd filled not only his personal collections, but also a basement, garage, and spare room with vintage items. When he saw a chance to retail his collections at Captain Bizzaro's, he jumped.
"I was kind of tired of meeting people at my house six times a day," Dillard says, referencing his previous method of selling items by posting them on Craigslist. Now, Dillard fills a chunk of space at Captain Bizzaro's and says business is good. He comes in a few times a week for a couple of hours to assist customers and change his inventory, and he helps Garrod place select store items on Craigslist.
Curiousities and Novelties
These days, the store is full of interesting items: a life-size astronaut cut-out; Snoopy figurines; stacks of vintage records; a case full of hundred-year-old shields and military patches; an impressive collection of skulls. The inventory changes daily. But the constant presence behind the counter every day, wearing vintage clothing and working an old cash register, is Garrod.
The Grand Haven native has been in the neighborhood since 1997, when he went out one fall day looking for a coat and ended up buying The Civic Theatre's entire costume collection. "I said, 'How much for everything?'" he recalls. "I made them an offer, they said yes, and seven truckloads later, I had all these clothes."
As the owner of Blue Sky Promotions, Garrod was already in the business of renting props and costumes for movies and local plays. This time, though, he opened up a storefront at 450 Leonard called Flashback, known to locals as One Man's Junk and run today by his business partner, Peri Olson.
Garrod says both stores are doing well in spite of the recession. "With the economy the way it is, instead of throwing things away, people are into throw-backs and flash-backs. Why spend $20 on silverware when you can get it here for $2?"
A Nice Fit
With its friendly vibe and classic rock playing on an old GE clock radio at the counter, Captain Bizzaro's has fit seamlessly into the neighborhood.
"When local people say, 'The neighborhood is brighter; everyone is talking to each other,' it changes the community," says Garrod happily. "I think this store has changed the entire complexion of the neighborhood." Customers take their time browsing, ask if they can return an accidentally-purchased Culture Club album (answer: yes), and make plans to grill out with one another later in the day.
"I'm open every day so we can be here for the customers," says Garrod. "Little kids with a million questions, ebay sellers, people looking for things from their childhood; fun people welcome."
"I think Captain Bizzaro's is great," says Mark C. Lewis, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures, a Grand Rapids non-profit that works to support local, neighborhood businesses. "I love to see new businesses coming in, and this enhances the vitality of the West Leonard business district."
Though Garrod enjoys high visibility and traffic volume on Leonard Street and knows most of the local customers by name, his client base isn't just limited to the immediate area. With his reputation for maintaining eclectic collections and knowing a little bit about almost everything, Garrod's store draws from Rockford, Ada, Grand Haven, and even Chicago.
"I've always had some over-the-top oddities that neighborhood people don't want," he says, naming a stuffed Scottish terrier named Lucky as his wackiest sell and reminiscing about the day two separate customers came in to purchase one mannequin arm apiece.
Bill Davis, a loyal customer, makes his way to Captain Bizzaro's Treasure Mart at least once a month, often in search of music and political campaign items for his personal collection. Davis, the retired director of collections for the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, remembers his first visit to the store. "When I walked in, it was sort of a combination store and amusement park," he says.
He keeps coming back, recently on a quest for political campaign pins from the 1924 and 1928 Democratic National Conventions. "Sometimes I find items that people don't even think are valuable," says Davis. "It's more fun to come to than a lot of other stores. It reminds me of an odd, strange adventure."
Garrod is pleased to steer the ship as this odd, strange adventure moves forward. Captain Bizzaro's just started offering custom neon signage made to specification for customers launching a business or outfitting a basement bar. Garrod has a few more spaces for vendors to fill with inventory, and he's accepting items to sell on commission, too.
Mostly, though, he's just enthusiastic about keeping his quirky business afloat in a sea of economic uncertainty. "It's a great little nucleus of people here, a good community," he says, and turns to see who's jingling in the door next.
Stephanie Doublestein writes and blogs about food, business, and parenting, among other things. She lives in East Grand Rapids with her husband and their two young daughters.
Captain Bizzaro's Treasure World (2)
Tim Garrod owner of Captain Bizzaro's Treasure World (2)
Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved