One of my favorite places to visit in NYC is the Evolution Store. Located at 120 Spring St, this museum style store carries everything from rocks and minerals to skeletons, home accessories and toys to taxidermy, and of course, jewelry made out of bugs. The store was established in 1993 by owner and curator William (Bill) Stevens and has been premier destination for anyone shopping for curiosities in NYC for the past 20 years. I often spend afternoons here wandering around the upstairs which feels like a tiny museum all in itself, where you can find a taxidermied two headed cow, giant sea-shells, and even human skulls! I’ve always been curious about this quirky store, so I spoke with Alex Minott, the Brand Manager for Evolution, on its history and some of the colorful aspects of running it.
Alex Minott: The Evolution Store is the brainchild of Bill Stevens, who started it in its present location in 1993. He had a fascination for this type of material since he was young, and he had been collecting it himself for years. Bill worked in photo retouching, back when that type of thing was all done by hand, and he had a studio with several employees. By the early nineties the business was all going digital, and at the same time he had begun to find his enthusiasm for the work diminishing, so he decided to get out of it. It occurred to him that perhaps he could make a business selling the types of things he liked to collect. He happened across a building in SoHo that was available for rent, and he drew on some of the people he had gotten to know through his own collecting to supply him. He opened the store with a minimal stock, and without any cash registers, and began doing business right away. It’s been 22 years since then, and the business is still hanging on, which is more than you can say for most of the other businesses in the neighborhood!
When it opened, Bill actually lived upstairs above the store. Apparently, Bill hung a real skeleton out in front to grab attention, but he didn’t particularly consider what the weather and passers-by would do to such a fragile object. Needless to say, we have a replica out there these days. I dunno if he has a name, but we still have to replace him every so often, and modify him to make him less vulnerable to being busted-up. Everybody likes to take their picture with him and the elements take their toll. A homeless guy even attempted to decorate him with dog poop once.
Yes, we have had both strange and famous customers, as you can imagine. We have sold things to all sorts of people, from collectors to tourists to rock stars, actors, and movie directors. We had a very nice customer years ago who bought a large number of replica skulls and teeth to decorate his dental office, but as it turned out he didn’t actually believe in evolution. He had even written a book on Intelligent Design. We sold gallon jugs of dead flies to an artist at one point. We supplied Damien Hirst with thousands of butterfly specimens that he used in his work. I recall selling a nice dinosaur egg from France to Robin Williams and his family, and we have sold or rented numerous items to film and TV production companies, especially the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, but there are always more.
What are your favorite items in the store?
I have been collecting various fossils, minerals, bones and shells from different sellers we see at shows myself for some fifteen years (in addition to little things I might find myself). I have a pretty nice little collection of Trilobites and some interesting fossil teeth. I like lots of interesting little items, not necessarily the giant flashy ones, but a current favorite is a big beautiful Fish Skeleton in a frame that has been sitting in a closet waiting to be completed and mounted for a couple of years.
Thanks kindly to Alex for giving us a little background on this fascinating store. I really love this place and usually buy presents for people for the holidays there. There is nothing like stuffing a stocking full of Cricket snacks, which flavors like Bacon & Cheese, and sure beat giving people coal. You can find a small portion of the Evolution store’s inventory for sale on their website, but it doesn’t compare to visiting the store in person. If you are feeling exceptionally inspired by their selection, the store also offers Taxidermy classes so you can make your own creepy critter displays. Be sure to stop on by the Evolution Store next time you need a see-through velociraptor or a larvae lollipop. For a tour of the store by the owner, Bill, check out the video below.
Image Credits: Jessica Fisher