Unless you’re particularly thick skinned, it can feel awkward to merely browse inside a store. I have, more than once, purchased a thing I didn’t originally plan to buy because I felt like I was paying rent to the space, the time I’d spent there, and the staff that had qualified me as a consumer. But, sometimes, you just want to look around. Get ideas. See rare and radical things. I rather like the idea of a store conceived in a way that it might as well be a park, a playground of art and antiques, and you can just explore. Or check out books, even. Maybe see some music and drink a beer. And go home, electric with experience. Viracocha is such a place. It has that autonomous feeling about it: you can be an explorer, or a book lover, a scavenger for antiques that still have stories, a person that likes the night and music in a rustic basement straight out of the Pacific Northwest. A guitar played there at midnight communicates the perfect rub of finger against coiled wire, that full and raspy movement that becomes a movement toward a community.
It seems like a perfect movement. It’s a gamble and requires some nerve to abandon the typical business-patron blueprint and build a following based on ideas instead. To find a rare object and shine new life into it, a circa 1930’s jet black Corona typewriter, say, and curate them in such a way that you may as well be purchasing a Porsche in the redwoods, or a Canon Mark III in a barn. That’s a wonderful idea. And that, in the most simple terms, appears to be Viracocha’s ideology – this somewhat socialist perspective, playing friendly thumb war with the hippest, most relaxed muscle of commerce. Within that you’ll notice the a refined penchant for hand-crafted lamps, books, typewriters, antique bathtubs and live instruments. This may all sound somewhat artsy or lofty for a retail space, but, in their own words, the goal of Viracocha is to create a community-operated space “dedicated to the explorative nature of human expression”. This is reflected by their choice to emphasize “the fields of vintage design and fashion, visual art, (and) music” in an effort to “cultivate and spread the creative spirit that runs through the heart of our city” and offer a “new perspective on reused and redesigned materials.”
Owner Jonathan Siegel, a business and residential design consultant, opened Viracocha’s doors just over two years ago in February 2010. He handles all the buying and is also the designer of the space. He did a fantastic job. Once inside, you’ll find it difficult to decide which piece of refurbished eye candy to rest your eyes upon. There’s exotic, custom made chairs from the 50’s, an eclectic record collection, vintage bicycles, elegant phonographs from the early 1900′s and shiny, restored sewing machines. Then at the far end of the top floor, you’ll notice a smaller, amber lit room with dozens and dozens of books. It’s a lending library, run by Kristina Kearns of OurShelves, where you can pay a small monthly fee to check out books, many of them by local authors, as well as new and used magazines. Even better, portion of the proceeds are allocated toward the building of a free library for women and children at the Riley Center in the historical Women’s building. Now that’s what we call community. And, finally, if you happen to be lucky enough to stop in on a night when a show’s quietly buzzing downstairs, you need only head for the stairwell that leads down into what feels like and old friend’s basement. It has a warm, intimate, and rustic feel that lacks pretension and glows and hums with the most humble creative energy. When my girlfriend and I spent a recent evening there, shopping and reading and seeing and listening, we left with the feeling that we’d stumbled into something bigger, deeper and fresher than merely a cool new store. It did indeed feel like a movement. It was a magical night in a beautiful, bright jewel of a place packaged in cedar, history and summery lights.