Remembering the Curiosity Shoppe in Avon, OH

After writing about my memories of Baker’s Bakery as a child, I tried to think back to some more places that I was fond of as a child. One of those places was called the Curiosity Shoppe in Avon, OH. I’m pretty sure that this is a piece of history that will seem very obscure, but I still wanted to highlight it.

When I was in elementary school, around 1995-2000, it was an exciting weekend journey for my parents to drive out to 36145 Detroit Road in Avon. Present day, it’s surprising to look at Google Maps to see that it would only take 18 minutes to drive from Cleveland to that address, because it felt like it used to be a one-hour ride out there. There were many times that my parents would take city roads instead of the highway, though, so that could explain it. Crocker Park as we know it today did not exist back then, but the location is not too far from there, just beyond Westlake, OH.

What Was the Curiosity Shoppe?

There were two buildings — on the left was a house, and on the right was a big garage. It was almost like a mini-warehouse, but it had a garage-like feeling. In other words, it wasn’t something that you would just park two cars in and have no other space — I remember it being the size of two fast food dining areas, with multiple aisles of donated merchandise in it.

Naturally, as a kid, I would run to the toy section in the garage, rummaging through various crates to see what types of McDonald’s collectibles I could find. At the time, I loved collecting McDonald’s Happy Meal toys through garage and rummage sales, using this as a reference book. It was the coolest thing ever to me. I know that I purchased a few little toys from the Curiosity Shoppe back then, but I don’t remember exactly what I got.

Elsewhere in the garage, there would be electronics, tools, outdoor stuff, and many other things. I didn’t go in the house as often because it had more antique-style or household items as well as clothing, which you don’t really care about as a kid. For some reason, I have a vision of picking up one small stuffed animal from inside the house that was a McDonald’s collectible, in a room that also had books in it. I may have only been to the Curiosity Shoppe like 5-10 times in my life, but it stood out to me.

In recent years, I thought to myself, “The Curiosity Shoppe was awesome when I was little; I wonder if it’s still there?” It’s not. In fact, the entire area looks completely different, with the buildings being torn down and an Avon city building in its place. That’s when I started to do some research about it.

A Good Cause With Volunteers

In 1978, Shirley Calvey founded the Curiosity Shoppe, which was branded as “an antique shop whose proceeds are donated to Our Lady of the Wayside.” Calvey worked as a cook at Our Lady of the Wayside in the early 1970s and ran the shop for 17 years as a volunteer prior to retiring. According to an interview with the Plain Dealer in 1990, Calvey said that she remembered visiting a small thrift store in California that she had enjoyed as a child; and as an adult, she saw how much the thrift store had grown. The article says that she began the Curiosity Shoppe in a rented room of an antique store in 1978, then moved to an old farmhouse in 1980. In 1984, she moved it to the Detroit Road location that I remember, with 12 rooms and the garage.

The article says that the home featured rooms dedicated to books, toys, linens, men’s clothing, women’s clothing, and a kitchen, and that the garage had items like lawn mowers and typewriters. That description gels with my memory from long ago. In 1990, she cited 63 volunteers who were cleaning, sorting, and repairing the donated merchandise. The shop was open Tuesdays-Fridays from 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM, and then on Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Saturdays is probably when I would spend my time there in awe.

There was another article in the Plain Dealer from September 1996 that talked about Peggy MacDowell volunteering at the shop. It tragically noted that her two sons passed away within six months of each other with cerebral palsy and cancer. But she liked volunteering at the shop for the cause, as the proceeds from sales would benefit mentally and physically disabled children and adults that lived at the three Our Lady of the Wayside homes.

“[The shop] has always been a vital part of our operations,” said Terry Davis, executive director of the non-profit agency. “We just couldn’t live without it.”

How much did the shop raise each year? Through various articles, I found quotes that said it raised $110,000 in 1989, $130,000 in 1992, and $160,000 in 1996. They wouldn’t have been able to raise as much without all of the volunteers; they only had two paid employees in 1996, presumably for minimal wages. The volunteers were always tight-knit and tried to keep things light, like having a sign that read, “Unattended Children Will Be Sold.”

As it turns out, the Curiosity Shoppe was somewhat a part of Avon’s French Creek business district, “a trail of antiques and restoration shops, and historic landmarks, strung along Detroit Road.” A physical map used to be available of the district, but I haven’t been able to come across a version of it online. Other businesses in the district included Countryside Antiques, Olde Avon Village, Sweet Caroline’s Emporium, and Jameson Homestead Antiques. Not all of those businesses exist today, but the district still has a presence in Avon with events, which you can follow on their website here.

Closure and Aftermath

In an article from the Sun News, the Curiosity Shoppe “quietly closed its doors and went out of business” in March 2003. It said that Our Lady of the Wayside had leased the property from the state for 30 years before buying it in 2000; that included the state transferring all maintenance responsibility over to Our Lady of the Wayside. However, revenue did not grow enough to offset maintenance and the heavily declining number of volunteers. They would have needed to pay more employees. The “final blow” was the state making “deep cuts to Medicaid spending,” which impacted the people living in their group homes. That means rather than spending money on employees for the shop, they directed their funds toward supporting the homes instead.

The Our Lady of the Website said the following:

As of March, 2003, Curiosity Shoppe I in Avon has been closed due to budget restraints. Unfortunately, the cost of operating has surpassed the benefits of this program. It has become evident that this program has fallen prey to our need to curtail expenses not directly related to client services.

Why did they refer to it as “Curiosity Shoppe I,” you may wonder? Because they also had a second location, Curiosity Shoppe II, located at 14084 State Road, North Royalton, OH. At one point in time, the two stores had combined to raise $300,000 in a year. Curiosity Shoppe II followed suit and closed in December 2003, though. A Plain Dealer article from 1999 that listed a directory of antique/resale shops also made mention of “Curiosity Shoppe III” at some point at 29427 Euclid Avenue in Wickliffe, OH.

Two months later in May 2003, Avon City Council voted and allowed the mayor to enter into an agreement to purchase the property at 36145 Detroit Road, which would “allow for future development,” as they already had a fire station located next door. In September 2003, it was noted that in the future, the location would be used for a “city hall complex,” but until that was developed, the mayor wanted to know what the property should be used for. The Council “was in favor of allowing the parks department to use the building for programs” or to have another department move into the location. I am not clear what happened in the months or years that followed, but it appears that it was eventually decided to build the Avon Police Department there:

Google Maps only goes back as far as 2008 at the location, and the police structure is there. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any pictures of the inside or outside of the Curiosity Shoppe. The lead photo in this article was grabbed from a very old archive.org webpage from Our Lady of the Website, on a page that they had labeled “Curiosity Shoppe,” with no other context. The picture does not remind me of the garage or the house, though, so I wonder if it was of the North Royalton location, which I had never been to.

For my nostalgic kick on unique stores, I also remember a thrift store that I was in once when my parents drove to Kidron, OH to visit Lehman’s. I couldn’t remember the name, but I checked Google Maps, and it was called MCC Connections Thrift Shop and it does still exist at 4080 Kidron Rd, Dalton, OH. I remember buying a metal slinky and another little toy (a model desk) there. Let me know if you have any memories of unique antique/resale/thrift stores from when you were younger, or if anyone happens to remember the Curiosity Shoppe too.

3 thoughts on “Remembering the Curiosity Shoppe in Avon, OH

  • March 15, 2023 at 9:45 am
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    I’m deeply touched by this article. Shirley Calvey was my Grandmother. Is so much more caring than you can imagine. I’m grateful for her. I was born in the autism spectrum. But only recently diagnosed. I struggled a lot as a child. Grandma taught me how to go through life with my disabilities.

    Reply
    • March 16, 2023 at 12:39 pm
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      Thank you for the reply and personal story! It sounds like a wonderful and heartfelt mission that Shirley dedicated to. There aren’t many people who dedicate a significant portion of their life to helping others, but they make a profound and long-lasting impact on many individuals.

      Reply
  • June 4, 2023 at 10:28 am
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    Oh goodness. I loved going to the Curiosity Shoppe! We lived in Avon Lake and would go there often with my daughter. In 1999, we moved out of state for 15 years. Of course we ended up moving back here and I remembered the shop but couldn’t remember if it was on 611 or detroit. It certainly doesn’t look the same in that area. Nothing does from the time we left to now. I think I remember one gas station being near 83 and Chester and now look at it! My brother also remembers the shop. Oh how I wish it was still there. And also wish there were pictures from it. Thank you for your research and article!!! Happy ReSale-ing!

    Reply

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