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Thank You, Carol Lopez & The Peaceable Kingdom

Thank You, Carol Lopez & The Peaceable Kingdom

Note to readers: I wrote the piece below in the summer of 2022 when I heard Carol had passed away. I didn't know what to do with it until recently when I spoke with Carol's son, Mark at his new cafe and bar, The Hidden King. It's occupies the former Peaceable Kingdom space at 210 S. Main St. It's a delightful spot to enjoy a coffee drink, sweet treat, or a refreshing beer, wine or cocktail. The Hidden King space is in steeped in local history including a growing collection of framed pictures and a mural dating back to 1863 when the space was last a beer hall. Mark not only wants the historical features of the building to stay in tact, he wants to fill it with more history, make more history, and share it with us. Go there, support Hidden King, and enjoy!

The Hidden King Cafe & Bar window with gold lettering

Photo credit of Carol Lopez above: MLive
Photo credit of Hidden King window: @hiddenkinga2
Photo credit of Esther: Molly Mast-Koss


Thank You, Carol Lopez & The Peaceable Kingdom

In 1986, The Peaceable Kingdom moved to its Main Street location almost directly across the street from my dad’s store and I became a loyal patron at the age of 9 years old. I had my eye on Esther during many visits to the shop. I’d look for her among the other stuffed animals cozied up together on their bottom shelf in the back left corner. It was quiet back there. The animals looked out in different directions. I’d try to catch Esther’s eye, but I didn’t dare pick her up and disrupt the display. I’d admire Esther’s jewel-toned floral dress and soft white fur. She was beautiful and lop-eared, like my real rabbits at home. Unlike my rabbits, she looked smart and sophisticated, like she was going somewhere. She didn’t stink or scratch. Even though I wanted her, I kept it to myself, aware I was getting too old for stuffed animals. Hoping that if I didn’t announce it, she would still be there when it was time. It never crossed my mind there could be more than one of her.

Esther, who wasn’t yet Esther, cost $40. For a kid in the ’80s with a spotty allowance, that was a lot of money. My mom wasn't big into reward systems, especially for regular daily expectations, so when she offered me a prize for practicing piano, I bit. She said I could pick out anything I wanted from The Peaceable Kingdom - the store where Esther was displayed - if I played piano consistently for three months at least 5 times a week for 20 minutes. There must’ve been a recital coming up. I made a chart, mom gave me a pack of star stickers along with a black and white kitchen timer that ticked. I was motivated. 

It was a hot summer day when my mom took me to redeem my reward. Wood floor creaking underfoot, I beelined to the back left corner of the shop, plucked Esther out of the cozy crowd of stuffed animals, and put her on the counter to be paid for. I was thrilled she waited for me. Surprised, my mom asked, “You don’t want to look around?” I just wanted to take my new friend home. Thinking back, I’m sure my mom didn’t know how familiar I was with the shop’s inventory due to the hours I spent in that space after she dropped me off at Mast Shoes to “help Dad.” She didn’t know I’d already taken in the art, the textures, the knickknacks, and analyzed the jewelry in the cases with my best friend, Lauren, another 9-year-old regular, whose mom’s workplace was also nearby. “Wanna go to Peacable?” was a common question between us. There was always one answer before we’d take off in that direction, small purses swinging.

From there, the Peaceable Kingdom continued to interest me through many ages and stages. It was my go-store shop for birthday gifts, Mother’s Day gifts, art supplies, origami instruction books, unique paper, cards, and treats for myself. Much later, it became a delightful destination for me to share with my daughter, Penelope. She'd smoosh her face against the shin-high windows to peer into the fairy world visible from the sidewalk. She’d be down there focusing for a long time while I admired the always-artful window display and prominently placed wire sculpture of Jake Woods (Shakey Jake), whom Carol advocated for. I’d remember Laur and me together on that same sidewalk, decades before. My gaze always drifted across Main Street to the building in which I was “raised in the shoe store.” I can’t look at that building without recalling my grandfather’s scent when he hugged me in greeting. A pleasant combination of second-hand Pall Mall smoke and sweet cologne. Eventually, Penelope would pop her head up, confidently report seeing the flutter of wings and we’d go inside to pick a treasure or two from the gorgeous 12-foot-long table overflowing with knick-knacks.

In my younger years, I had one obsession at the Peaceable Kingdom. The sticker rolls. Oh my goodness, the pleasure of gazing at the stickers, the 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 cent prices, and figuring out which ones I could buy with the change in my pockets, is still at the top of my list of “most pleasurable life experiences.” If I could go back to those moments, I would. I dreamed of buying the extravagant jumbo stickers in the back row. There were giant red hearts, full moons, and a variety of lush flowers. There was Elvis and Santa Claus. Some of those jumbo stickers were multi-piece scenes. Big gingerbread men and a cartoonish nativity scene showed up in November. A pair of sharp scissors was tied to the sticker display with a ribbon next to a handwritten sign that warned NOT to cut your own, ask for assistance. I don’t know how long I stood there deciding how to spend my 50 cents, but I know I took the decision very seriously. Other customers’ purchases were rung up on the ornate gold cash register that made a mechanical winding noise and had a pleasant bell ring. I watched as gifts were wrapped in the signature style of twine being tied around brown bags with bright red-orange tissue. I remember feeling self-conscious when asked “Are you ready now?” when actually, I wasn’t quite ready. I didn’t want those minutes of luxury and autonomy to end. There were so many enticing sticker choices! My sticker book (an old beige photo album with sticky pages and clear overlays) was filling up and I was curating a varied collection, no repeats allowed. I saved that tattered book until a few years ago when I let my then 8-year-old enjoy peeling off the smooth white backings of my flat, preserved treasures. Watching that happen was pleasurable, painful, and cathartic all at once.

At eleven years old, I did my first-ever business deal with the owner, Carol Lopez. Inspired by my friend’s big sister, I started making origami earrings. I spent hours making tiny folds, bending craft wire, hot glue-gunning the wire to my origami balloons and kimonos and attaching the earring hooks which I’d purchased at The Bead Gallery (another long-gone gem of a store). Once I got the scale and design just right, I made several pairs with the intention of selling them. I really wanted to sell them at my favorite shop but I was terrified of what I would need to do to make that happen. My dad owned and operated Mast Shoes across the street from the Peaceable Kingdom so I asked him how to proceed. “Go talk to Carol,” he said.

I was a very shy kid. Quiet to the point of not talking unless talked to. Some of my teachers never heard my voice for the entire school year. My report card always said that I needed to improve my participation in class. I never raised my hand because it meant I’d need to talk in front of everyone. It’s just how I was. I could tell my dad was using the situation to push me out of my comfort zone, and he must’ve quickly sensed my extreme anxiety at the thought of talking to Carol. “I’ll walk over there with you,” he said.

After a bit of Main Street shop talk that went right over my head (and also must’ve sunk in given my career choice), my dad retreated and went back to work. I realized that was my cue and asked Carol if she’d look at the earrings I’d made. My earrings were packaged “professionally”, by me, which meant they were hanging on white cardstock cut to a size that framed the earrings like artwork. I pulled them out of the new brown paper lunch sack I made sure was crisp from the pantry before leaving the house. I remember her matter-of-factly saying “We’ll put them in the case and send you a check for half of what they sell for. What do you want to price them?” She took out a pad of carbon copy receipts, had me write down my name and address, wrote down “6 pr. kimono earrings”, and handed me the yellow copy. She extended her right hand and we shook. One firm pump, up and down. Overwhelmed by this victory and unsure how to express it in an adult-like way that matched her manner, I thanked her, left the earrings on the counter, and rushed out the front door. My heart beat fast and proud.

Carol hadn’t spoken to me in the manner other adults did. She was direct and no-nonsense and I liked that. She didn’t think I was cute and she didn’t talk down to me. She connected via firm eye contact, which grounded me when my legs wanted to run. On my next visit to the shop, I scanned the cases and when I saw my earrings behind the glass sitting right next to the “real” jewelry, I almost couldn’t believe it. $8 checks arrived in the mail in plain white envelopes every few months.

Carol, an adult I barely knew, accepted and encouraged who I wanted to become at just the right moment. I wanted to become a person who made and sold earrings in my favorite shop. My eleven-year-old self wanted to be a person who could ask a near-stranger to sell my creations and then pay me my cut. By saying yes in the way she did, Carol communicated that she took me seriously and that gave me courage. A lifelong gift for an introverted, shy girl.

Oblivious to how lucky I was to have spent time on Main Street when unique retail was still flourishing in downtowns across the country, I look back on those years now and cherish my early experiences in those shops. I could usually convince my dad to give me the change in his pocket so I could cross the street twice (by myself, oh the independence) and buy a custard-filled long john from Dom Bakery. Back on the sidewalk, munching the wax- paper-wrapped donut, savoring the custard, I’d wait for the white walk sign to blink and cross Liberty Street again, back toward my favorite shop. Feeling buzzed by all that sugar, I’d make my way inside anticipating new stickers. The joy I experienced then carried into my young adult years and in part influenced my decision to become an owner/operator of Mast Shoes. To this day I continue to find inspiration for business, placemaking, leadership, and art through my cherished memories of Carol and her shop.

Esther sits on my desk giving me the side-eye. She’s sewn together in a way that she’s always looking off to the side, or over my shoulder. It wasn’t until I tried to photograph her that I noticed her straight-on gaze is eager and ever so slightly confrontational. Definitely confident with one shoulder raised and one big bunny foot in front of the other. Her ribbon-trimmed collar stands up on one side as if ruffled from moving swiftly. With her stitched-on half smile and one fist swinging back, she seems to be saying  “What’s next, Molly? We got this.”

Esther, a white stuffed animal bunny from the Peaceable Kingdom

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