Claire Darcy, Contributing Writer
A beheaded human skeleton sits on a red velvet armchair inside the shop on South Laurel Street, joined by a taxidermied skunk in its lap and a similarly stuffed hyena at its heel. The trio are surrounded by thriving green plants — a delicate balance between the living and the dead.
Visitors to Rest in Pieces at 349 S. Laurel St. will find animal and non-animal products behind its black brick frame, etched with white letters that read “ODDITIES & CURIOSITIES.”
“It’s this immediate overwhelming, immersive experience in the store, and that’s what we want,” said co-owner Justin Torone.
Rest in Pieces is unique to Richmond and the only store of its kind in Virginia, Torone said. He owns and operates the store with his girlfriend, Alaina Gearhart.
“We try to sell things that you won’t find anywhere else in the city or in the state of Virginia,” Torone said. “We try to bring in just crazy stuff that will be something different to look at.”
Items for sale include mammal skulls, taxidermied animals, framed bugs, plants, incense and crystals. Torone said this selection often causes the business to get labeled as a “goth shop,” although he prefers to view it as a “lifestyle store.”
Every product is hand-picked by Torone and Gearhart, and as a result, the shop reflects many of their personal tastes — such as Gearhart’s passion for plants and Torone’s love for skulls.
“The first time I got a giraffe skull … I literally couldn’t believe my eyes that I had such a beautiful creature’s skull sitting right in front of me,” Torone said.
All animal items sold in the store are ethically sourced; the store does not encourage hunting for taxidermy, but instead partners with farms and zoos for recently deceased specimens. These partnerships tend to begin with a group reaching out to the shop with inquiries about items they no longer need. For example, farms may process livestock for meat but have no use for an animal’s head, so rather than throwing it out, they can sell it to the store.
“A lot of the taxidermy pieces, we actually know exactly where they came from,” said store manager Tazmine Beggs. “We have a baby zebra in the shop that passed away at the Pittsburgh Zoo and a lemur that passed away at another zoo.”
Beggs said Rest in Pieces prides itself on its cleanliness and customer service, striving to maintain a clean aesthetic.
The store offers custom preservation services, such as taxidermy or skull preservation — both often utilized by pet owners. The store partners with a local taxidermist for preservations and utilizes its own fleet of dermestid beetles — a type of beetle that eats flesh — for skull cleaning.
“It’s important to me to offer that service for people,” Torone said. “Bringing it up to people was a kind of taboo subject. We’re not like that here. We’re not going to make you feel uncomfortable or weird about anything, and we’re very open about death.”
The shop also offers preservation through the creation of a wet specimen. Wet specimens are fixed with a formaldehyde solution and kept in a jar filled with 70% isopropyl alcohol. Typical wet specimens in the store include snakes and frogs.
Torone and Gearhart founded Rest in Pieces in the summer of 2014. The couple began collecting unusual items and sold them out of their home until they found a storefront in 2015. Torone said it was initially difficult to find a building because most landlords did not understand the couple’s vision for their business.
“A lot of people kind of laughed at us when we said what we wanted to do, what our store was going to be and what we were going to sell,” Torone said. “It seemed like no one understood it and no one wanted to understand it.”
The store’s first location was a 500-square-foot building in the Fan District. In January 2017, the store closed its doors to prepare for a relocation to a larger space.
In April of the same year, Rest in Pieces opened its new and current location in Oregon Hill, where it now sits near Hollywood Cemetery. The store tends to receive foot traffic from VCU students and tourists.
“We’ve quickly turned into more of a destination-point shop, where people are coming to Richmond just to come to our store,” Torone said.
Freshman psychology major Ellis Miscavage discovered Rest in Pieces shortly before moving to campus while searching online for Richmond attractions.
“When I first walked in I was like, ‘this is the coolest place I’ve ever been to,’” Miscavage said.
Miscavage has purchased merchandise from the store and admires the extensive selection of crystals and its overall inclusive environment.
“It’s for everyone. Anyone who would visit a museum would come and visit our store,” Torone said. “We’re very welcoming and happy to have anyone come through our shop.”