About three years ago, New England natives Justin Torone and his girlfriend Alaina Gearhart fell in love with Richmond, packed up all their bones and skulls, and left for the city.
Now the couple owns and operates Rest in Pieces, an oddities and taxidermy shop in Carytown that will bottle, frame and sculpt recycled materials from dead animals.
“For our two-year anniversary, I got her two human ribs,” Torone said. “We had a little curiosity cabinet at our house and we collected stuff.”
Torone said he likes anything human: human bones,skulls, anything. But he is also fascinated by wet specimens, ouija boards and anything “old history.”
He said the couple share an interest in “curiosities to the collector” items, but they wanted to take the concept to the next level, and thus, the idea for Rest in Pieces was born.
“One day, we just picked up a roadkill groundhog on the side of the road and let it decompose,” Torone said. “We sat there and cleaned the bones with toothbrushes and we started making jewelry and bone terrariums and stuff. We sold them to an antique store and budgeted what we made and it grew from there.”
Taxidermy, skulls and specimens fill the two-person shop on South Stafford Avenue in the Fan District. The business had its grand opening last May, and is open six days a week.
Torone said no animals are harmed for the purposes of the store — Torone and Gearhart make an effort to keep the stock full of animals that died naturally. The shop works with local pet stores, farms and breeders in the area to collect animals after they’ve passed.
“People come in and ask if we buy animals and I say no because I don’t want someone killing a fox so they can make money off it,” Torone said. “That’s not right.”
Torone said he has a “pretty bold” five-year plan, because the couple is quickly running out of room at the store. After the two-year mark, he said they hope to lease a larger space and would love to have an employee or two, as well as deeper involvement with the Richmond community.
Walking into the shop, the customer is greeted with rows of distinctive, sometimes disturbing, items. Warthog skulls, pickled armadillo fetuses, zebra paws, long-dead dragon lizards, bone or teeth jewelry, ouija boards and other eccentric merchandise.
“(Our most popular items are) wet specimens, jewelry and small mammal skulls,” Torone said. “I’m always trying to come up with new things, and recently I’ve been doing this predator-prey series where it’s snakes eating mice in jars. I’m always trying to take it to next level.”
Gearhart operates the shop’s social media and website and is constantly posting new works online, which Torone said draws a lot of people in for specific items.
The shop also takes special order requests. Torone said shoppers often bring in their deceased pets to preserve skulls, bones and hearts.
Rest in Pieces will be at the Richmond Voodoo festival Oct. 29 and the Richmond Tattoo festival Nov. 20-22. For large events, Torone said he and Gearhart create and sometimes tailor new items.
“For example, at our last event I brought our giraffe skull,” Torone said. “(I wasn’t) expecting I would sell it, but it’s more ‘Oh cool they have a giraffe skull, let’s see what else they have.’”
Sophia Belletti, Staff Writer
Sophia is a sophomore journalism major who writes for the Odyssey in addition to the news, sports and spectrum sections of the CT. Sophia also works in sales at Nordstrom and likes hiking and going to concerts. // Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn