I stepped into the charming store, scanning the displays of décor and craft supplies for the items I’d come to photograph.
The proprietor spied me from her seat behind the cash register.
“Looking for something special?” she asked.
Everything in her store is special. The store is aptly named Whimzy!, and it’s full of unusual finds, some sparkly and frilly and some, well . . . some are a little odd.
“Yes,” I answered. “Do you have any creepy doll heads in birdcages?”
“Hmmm,” she replied, in the same tone she might have used had I asked for chalk paint or ribbon. “I don’t think I have any in birdcages right now . . . I guess I sold them all. I do have some doll heads back here if you’d like to see them.”
As I followed her back to the display case that contained the heads, I explained that I was blogging for This Dark Matter, and I wanted to feature her store because of its distinctive mix of light and dark wares. Among the upcycled vintage items and the Victorian trappings, you’ll find what feels a bit like year-round Halloween: skeletons, crows, and the doll heads I’d seen on a prior visit, bizarre and forlorn in their hanging cages.
“Here we go,” she said, indicating this trio of heads and their accompanying limbs. “You know, we think of these things as creepy, but remember: the reason they’re still around is that they were once someone’s treasure.”
She—Diane White, the owner of Whimzy! — reminded me that back in the day, most girls only had one doll. Ever. The body would be made of cloth, and the heads, hands, and feet would be made of porcelain. A doll was a girl’s prized possession, played with until the body wore out, and then the heads, hands and feet were stored lovingly away. Dolls stored intact might lose their torsos to moths, mildew, or fire, but the head and limbs would survive. That’s why antique stores today have so many dismembered doll parts: what seems macabre is really just evidence of love and time.
Diane embraces the darker side of decorating with a laugh. “I love the doll heads in the birdcages. I think it’s funny. But a lot of people don’t get it, especially around here. Maybe this shop belongs somewhere else.” We talked about beach towns, or Los Angeles: places where the shoppers might be a little edgier than here in conservative Orange County. But Orange County is where she’ll stay.
Despite slowing sales in her retail store, Diane is enjoying a successful run with another venture: her craft show, Glitterfest, which she produces twice a year in Anaheim.
Glitterfest is not your grandma’s craft show. While you’ll find stylish home décor and beautiful handmade jewelry there, you’ll also find some downright spooky stuff. The fall show naturally showcases Halloween fare, but even the spring show delights in the dark side. Vendors display disturbing Victorian dolls and beautiful, headless ghost-brides right next to the bunnies and chicks. It’s a fantastical, edgy mix that sets Glitterfest apart from other local shows. You can see some of the spectacularly creepy Glitterfest art here.
I talked to Diane about her strategy for flexing to her shifting market while making time for the parts of her business that she enjoys most. She’s planning to reduce retail hours, offer more classes, and focus on the flea markets and craft shows that have been so successful. And despite the customers who don’t “get it,” she’ll keep her uncanny mix of merchandise. “I’ve been bringing in more clowns,” she says with a grin. “Clowns really freak people out.”
Photo credit: Diane White, Whimzy!