Walking into the Curiosities store, the first thing you'll see is a T-shirt with large lettering: "S.L.U.T." Look a little closer, and you'll see it's an acronym for "Support Local Underground Talent." That goal brought together the curious trio of band promoter Jon Bernard, recent Virginia Beach transplant Omar Nazari, and screen printer and airbrush artist John Shook. These Monroeville-area residents combined their interests and launched Curiosities on June 1 in a remote corner of Monroeville Mall. From here, they hope to open mainstream eyes to the talents of local artists ... and their own.
How did this come together?
John: I'd been doing a lot of shirts for small businesses, local businesses, mainly. Started doing my own designs. Then I met up with Jon, of Silent Partner, who had me print all his designs for him. Jon introduced me to Omar, and we decided to go into business here.
It's a real hodgepodge ... drawings of pop stars, shirts, CDs ...
John: That's [Omar], putting those hair accessories out there.
Jon: I told you, it's killin' the vibe, it's killin' the vibe! Squeeze pillows and hair accessories!
Omar: That stuff is leaving in the next two weeks ... it's a filler, c'mon! It's a store by the locals, for the locals, supporting all kinds of art, basically. I'm not as local ... I've just been here a couple months ... but these guys are born and raised here. There's so much art and talent around here, and no one is supporting them whatsoever.
I understand the T-shirts for local industrial bands ... but "your name on a grain of rice" necklaces?
Jon: [Omar] brought that thing from the beach, and I was like, "Whatever dude, if you want to do it, do it."
Omar: I can write paragraphs on a single grain of rice. [Laughter]. So, everyone has their own little talent, and that's what I do.
Why the mall?
Omar: Instead of going to a small shopping center, we have 11 million people shop in this mall every year, so it gives everyone a chance to see the local people, the local talent. ... Some days are great, we get a lot of feedback, some days people just walk by the door and you can hear them say, "This store sucks, this is lame, what is this doing here?" They call you punks, or whatever. ... But the majority of the people who come in say, "You know what, this is a unique store." It's not the same clothing, the same line of fashion, the same CDs.
Giving Hot Topic a run for its money?
Jon: See, I was trying to push that aside, really. I don't want to have that Hot Topic vibe ... we're not really all about that.
Hot Topic carries Ozzy T-shirts ... but you carry drawings of Ozzy?
Jon: That's on [Omar], dude. I don't know what his deal is with these pictures. They sell, it helps the vibe out ... it's musicians. We gotta do something to make the money! We help these artists, but there's no money in that, so we gotta do some other stuff ... the pictures and whatnot. Just trying to keep the place alive, have a little backup plan. Hence all those ridiculous belly rings.
Don't you have one?
Jon: No, dude.
John: Sure you do. Don't lie.
Omar: You have to. It's this new company policy!
Is it weird selling local and underground art around the corner from The Gap?
Jon: Part of the reason I wanted to start doing the underground music and stuff like that, is there's so many kids around here that have nothing to do. ... And I lost a lot of my friends in high school to drugs, and I was just thinking, if they had something to be interested in, they could focus elsewhere. Instead of just sitting around doing nothing, or doing drugs. ... They can bring their band stuff in on consignment. Everybody gets a chance to be seen and heard. It's pretty broad, from rap to metal to industrial.
Is there a theme to your shirt designs?
Jon: I do a lot of graffiti culture stuff, mainly because all the artists I know are graffiti artists. They never get seen. Unless you're wandering under bridges for some reason, you don't see some of the best art around.
Who are some of these artists?
Jon: Some go by a lot of different names. And I'm not really going to give away their real names. They know who they are. And I think a lot of people know who they are.
Would they be ... you?
Jon: No, no, not at all. I have no talent! My talent is exploiting other people's talent, that about it.