Story and photos by NATHAN ASTILL
Unhinged is the oddity, the outside-of-the-box store, the artistic Neverland. It is one of Pan’s lost boys that never quite grew up.
“Purveyors of the oddly beautiful,” says Amy Taggart, manager of Unhinged at 2165 S. Highland Drive. Her friendly, welcoming smile reflects the store’s atmosphere. She is holding a cup of coffee, sitting on an old wooden chest. The chest is for sale. The lights hanging from the ceiling all around her are as well.
Then again, that’s not unusual here. Everything in the store is for sale — from the clothing, to the artwork, to the organic soaps. Even the enormous wooden canoe hanging high up on the wall is for sale. If a person sees something they like, they can buy it. It’s a fairly new idea that makes the experience of shopping at Unhinged unique. “It is much more of a destination location,” Taggart says.
Owner Corey Folster, 45, grins as he says that’s exactly what he was aiming for. “I wanted to bring something different to Salt Lake. It’s so easy to get lost in the brick and mortar experience when shopping online, so I knew when I created this business that I wanted to provide a fun atmosphere,” he said. “I hated when I would go into shops and I couldn’t buy certain things that caught my eye.”
Folster used to manage other stores, such as Urban Outfitters and Forever 21, before he founded Unhinged. He opened the business in the Sugar House neighborhood in 2011, and in 2014 relocated a couple blocks south to a bigger and better location.
Folster opened another Unhinged in Provo in 2013. He plans to open a third shop, called Rewind Exchange, in Provo on Friday, April 3, 2015.
While Folster hadn’t initially planned to carry a lot of local merchandise, that began to change over time as he started to meet fun local artists and designers. “It’s really neat when you can add a local element to it,” he says.
Unhinged carries products made by more than 25 local designers, from Cardi Allyson, who created hellbent, a clothing brand with a Gothic twist, to Mieke Okamura, owner of Purring Buddha, a company specializing in the creation of organic soaps, lotions and lip balms.
Forty percent of the merchandise Unhinged carries is created by local artists through upcycling. Upcycling is the process of reusing old materials that may seem like trash to some people, in order to create new products with significantly higher quality and value. Take Salvage West, for instance. The owner crafts slickly designed wallets from the leather of old cowboy boots.
But while the value of these products may be higher, Unhinged prides itself on its competitive, more affordable prices. And while some of the art the store carries may not be everyone’s cup of tea, its purpose is making something out of nothing. Folster likes his artists to be one of a kind and more often than not, exclusive to the store. Most importantly, he wants to be able to sell things that are of high quality.
While selling quality merchandise is not much of a challenge, getting the word out about the store is. Advertising is expensive and Folster believes that “getting people out of their normal shopping modes and into their neighborhoods” is one of the hardest things about owning a local store.
Folster has been taking a different route to traditional advertising as he tries to support his company and its local artists through online media exposure. Unhinged has a strong online social media presence through its Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram pages. It also participates in the Sugar House Art Walk, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote local art and music in the Sugar House community.
“People need to realize that we have a lot of the same stuff as the big department stores,” Folster says.
But while they may have the same items as the bigger stores, the shopping experience is different. Unlike the bigger department stores, Unhinged carries local brands that have not been made on an industrial level. And because of this, customers are able to purchase clothing and art, among other things, that is one-of-a-kind.
Not only does Unhinged offer the same things in a more unusual way, but buying local is much better for the community.
Kristen Lavelett, executive director of Local First Utah, has a goal for buying local. “Our vision for buying local is for it to become as common as recycling is now,” she said. “The difference between big business and small business is profound. Small local businesses can help to enhance our local community.”
Now moving forward, one thing is certain for Folster — change. “One thing I love is changing things up,” he says. “It’s not about being crazy, it’s about thinking differently about things. I would love to eventually have our own Unhinged line.”
Folster plans to grow Unhinged, aiming on getting bigger in home décor offerings, particularly once Rewind Exchange opens in April 2015.
When asked over email about the feel of this new store, Folster said, “The vintage and preowned modern clothing will be carefully chosen to reflect a current well thought look that matches our customers[‘] tastes. It won’t be like a thrift store or resale shop that has a big assortment of random items. It will feel ‘collected.’”
Collected, like the artwork Taggart walks by hanging next to the stairs of the Sugar House store she manages. “Art is a creative outlet,” she explains, “a means of communicating something. Corey [Folster] was born for retail, and as the company continues to grow he will keep on reinventing the wheel.”