By Ed Perratore
Mount Kisco has had no bookshop since Borders closed its last stores in 2011. But a new business in town, Curio Room, may succeed where others failed by offering something you can’t buy online: personal attention that goes beyond retail pitches.
Curio Room, at 141 E. Main Street, is more than a bookstore. The brainchild of two local artists, Frog Wing and her partner, Gerry “Ray” Mak, the store offers not only new and used books but also used LPs, CDs and cassettes. Moreover, Curio Room showcases art, curios and gifts, including hand-decorated clothing, that the couple and others in the local artist community have created.
“People are craving in-person exchanges because of how much time we’ve all been spending online,” said Wing. “We want to provide space for people—more than a commercial experience—give room to be themselves, too.”
The idea behind Curio Room, added Mak, sprouts from “a deep part of the human mind that needs to hunt and gather, to seek things out, and wants that satisfaction of discovering,” he said. “It’s like that feeling of discovering either something you’ve been looking for, for a long time, or something you didn’t even know about.”
Mak, from Ossining, had seen much of Mount Kisco while growing up; Wing was a California native who came east during college. The pair met in Baltimore while helping out with an experimental theater production. Mak later returned to the area to help his family following his father’s death, and he ended up living in Mount Kisco. Wing, then based in Brooklyn, joined him. Shortly after, the pandemic struck.
The couple’s living space, during the lockdown, soon could not accommodate a working art studio for two. “I was seeing signs for spaces in Mount Kisco and thinking about the possibilities,” said Wing, and early intentions leaned toward a gallery of their own and their friends’ art, primarily paintings, illustrations and graphic art.
From there, it wasn’t long before they considered books, too, as an entry point for shoppers. Said Mak: “We both love bookstores, so it kind of started moving in that direction.”
Although much of the store is devoted to books, Curio Room does not consider itself competition for traditional bookshops, which specialize in new books. Like these stores, Curio Room can order any books. But Wing and Mak equally stress works from small and independent presses.
“Throughout,” said Mak, “we wanted an improvisational, intuitive thing, and we wanted room to always evolve and explore different kinds of ideas and projects.”
That notion of constant evolution is key to the store’s future. Its owners want Curio Room to reflect the local populace as well as their own vision of what the store should be. “We’re open to opinions and ideas that are different from our own perspectives,” said Wing, “and books are a way to have those conversations.” The couple are also seeking collaboration with organizations such as Mount Kisco Arts Council, along with local art teachers.
Another departure from the traditional model of bookstores is Curio Room’s invitation to local artists, authors and other crafters to meet at the store, chat with one another and with Wing and Mak, and explore how the couple can advance their work. This is Curio Room’s idea of the store as a community center—a living, breathing entity—that, in Wing’s words, can be “nourishing people’s values and creativity, with room for possibility.”
Through SunDogs Studio, a small-scale publishing venture begun during the Covid shutdown, Wing published zines that initially spread the word about what artist friends were doing. Now, the couple hope to use the same vehicle, probably distributed by mail, to feature local artists’ work.
Interested in donating books or music in good condition? Wing and Mak are not yet accepting donations, but they ask that you visit their website https://www.loc8nearme.com/new-york/mount-kisco/curio-room/6895300/. Curio Room expects to be open to art books, children’s books, literature, fiction, poetry and graphic novels. The exception is textbooks and mass-market paperbacks.
Curio Room is currently open Wednesday to Friday, 1 – 8 p.m., and 12 – 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and can be reached at 917-522-1888.
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