You Are Very Richmond If You Shop At Mongrel
Stan McCulloch and his business partner opened Mongrel as an alternative to the typical Hallmark greeting card fare in 1991. Photo by Kevin Clay.
Mongrel in Carytown is everyone’s favorite card store in Richmond and there’s good reason for that. Since opening its doors, Mongrel has always carried an eclectic mix of cards, gifts and home items that appeal to all kinds of people. Owner Stan McCulloch shares how and why he and Mark Burkett created one of Carytown’s flagship stores.
GayRVA: How did Mongrel get started?
McCulloch: My business partner, Mark Burkett, and I met in Greensboro, NC working at the same place. He had opened a tiny card store in Roanoke in 1985. The few months it was open it was very popular and a success but was wiped out when a flood hit downtown Roanoke. He had always dreamed of eventually opening another card store. At the time I was interested in moving to Richmond to pursue a masters in art at VCU. I suggested we visit Richmond and check out a cool little retail area called Carytown that might make a great location for a card store. Mongrel was born a little over 20 years ago in July of 1991 in the midst of an economic downturn. The combination and contrast of our backgrounds really aided the development of the store we have today.
How were you trying to be different than other card stores?
At the time we opened Mongrel (then Cards Cards Cards) there was a vast retail hole in the Richmond area. Also, we did not see any alternative to the typical Hallmark fare of cards and gifts of any significant measure. Our effort was to offer the Richmond market things that could not be found here but were often available in other metropolitan areas. That is still our guiding philosophy as the store has evolved over the years.
The Richmond gay community was a HUGE support for us literally from the day we first opened our doors. I can’t imagine that the store would have grown as fast as it did without that support.
What is the best thing about Richmond customers?
Mongrel is lucky to have an extremely sophisticated and very diverse customer base. It is a real joy to be able to offer things that we find humorous, edgy and challenging, beautiful and utilitarian and have customers respond with appreciation. We really enjoy hearing laughter all day long while we work. We are constantly amazed at the diversity of customers we see on our sales floor.
We have always said over the years, “Where else in Richmond would you see a West End matron rub shoulders with a punk rocker?” Also, there is a real awareness and support among our customers, especially in the last couple of years, of the “buy local” movement. We appreciate that!
Would Mongrel have worked anywhere else in Richmond?
I can’t imagine Mongrel being the store that it is anywhere else in the city of Richmond. Carytown is truly an ideal location for us. We have a great co-support of interesting retail and restaurants in Carytown. We draw daily customers from the neighborhoods right around Carytown as well as throughout the Richmond region. We also have a surprising amount of regular customers from Charlottesville, Washington DC, Norfolk/Virginia Beach and other cities.
What piece of advice would you give to someone trying to start a business in Richmond?
Location, location location!! And, know your customer base.
Where is the first place you would send a visitor to RVA and why?
It is hard to imagine one place being the first. There are so many interesting places to see in Richmond. My suggestions would be Church Hill because of it being one of the oldest parts of the city and the new restaurant there The Roosevelt. Also, the VMFA. Being a culture vulture I have visited a number of museums over the years and the VMFA can stand against some of the best.
What’s your idea of a perfect date?
With my partner – we love a challenging hike followed by a great meal at a local food spot.
What would you like to see changed about Richmond’s gay scene?
As long as I have been in Richmond the community seems to have been challenged by having a variety of places to meet for a city of its size.
I think under the surface Richmond actually has a pretty diverse gay community. In the past I have heard it characterized as being too homogenous but I don’t think that’s really true.
How are you very Richmond?
I am not very Richmond. You couldn’t have said that twenty years ago when I first moved here!
Mongrel is located at 2924 W. Cary St., Richmond, VA. Visit online at http://www.mongrelonline.com/.
Karen Newton is a freelance writer and full-time nerd who isn’t happy unless she’s going out every night for food, music or art and blogging it at www.icouldgoonandon.blogspot.com.
Enjoy the holiday season however you can this week, and in the weeks ahead, and support small businesses AS MUCH AS YOU CAN.November 23, 2015
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