Justin Torone and Alaina Gearhart began Rest In Pieces RVA as online taxidermists less than a year ago and now they have two industrial freezers filled wi
Justin Torone and Alaina Gearhart began Rest In Pieces RVA as online taxidermists less than a year ago and now they have two industrial freezers filled with raw skulls, reptiles, raccoons, possums, and coyotes.
And now they’re taking their unique talents offline and into the real world with a brick-and-mortar store at 1 S. Stafford Avenue.
What began last summer as a hobby making jewelry from preserved bones quickly became a fulltime business after a late one night epiphany at a Denny’s.
“I wanna do this; I wanna make [RIP] everything it can be,” Torone told Gearhart.
They were further convinced to open a store after RIP completely sold out of merchandise a month later at the Richmond Tattoo Convention. People kept asking them if they had a store, and with the shadow of a successful 2014 holiday season behind them, the couple has found keeping up with demand to be their biggest challenge so far.
As the business has grown, RIP has further developed their craft.
Gearhart described their learning process as “at first lopping stuff off, putting it in jars and hoping for the best” to now employing professional techniques and artistry.
Their first project last summer was a groundhog Justin left outside to decompose for a month before sawing the ribcage in half in order to preserve the heart in alcohol. Now, the completely self-taught couple uses beetles to clean specimens before Justin carefully, without damaging any bones, removes organs to preserve them in formuline [diluted formaldehyde].
Their fridges are filled to the brim with items you’re not likely to find in your grandma’s kitchen unless she was one of the witches from MacBeth. While the vast majority of items at RIP are preserved by Justin, the store has expanded its selection to include vintage taxidermy as well.
Although RIP did encounter resistance when looking for a location, the couple has found the local community overwhelmingly supportive. Many landlords were unwilling to rent to a taxidermy shop, either flat out refusing or claiming to have already leased locations which, in fact, still remain empty.
Fortunately, the space at 1 S. Stafford is ideal due partly to its large storefront windows perfect for the unusual displays with which RIP will soon be delighting their many supporters.
Torone credits that support with RIP’s ability to “excel” in filling a previously untapped niche market. “When I moved here three, four yeas ago, I remember walking around … looking for a shop like this and being really surprised that there wasn’t one,” he said. “There was a local shop for everything else and I [wondered] where’s the weird shop that’s supposed to be in this city?… Richmond is the place for it.”
Gearhart feels Richmond is the ideal home for RIP and was really excited to open a physical location to show people their work outside of the digital space.
“Not only as a store but as an attraction to get people to come to Richmond and come see this weird stuff,” said Gearhart. “It’s not just a store to us; it’s a museum of weird of oddities.”
Come celebrate and enjoy the oddities at Rest in Pieces’ grand opening party on Saturday May 23rd starting at 6pm at 1 S. Stafford in The Fan. The store will then be open during regular business hours (Tues-Fri. 11-7, Sat. 10-7, Sun. 12-5, closed Mon.).