Backstory

Backstory: Occult fascination leads to store that offers oddities, books

lfinaldi@newsobserver.comJuly 22, 2013 

  • Tips from Rod Sterling

    •  Believe in what you’re selling.

    •  Recognize the importance of your customers.

    •  Have fun at what you do.

— Some people take one look inside The Little Leviathan and immediately make the sign of the cross. Some, especially those with children, stop at the entrance and then quickly walk away. Others come in and flip through the store’s “Diseases of Children,” which one employee calls her favorite book.

An adventurous few even lie in the shop’s $1,500 white-velvet-lined coffin.

The Little Leviathan is an oddity shop with locations at the Raleigh Flea Market and on Powell Drive that sells everything from vintage-style razors and taxidermy tarantulas to old dentist chairs and distressed-looking clown figurines.

Its owner, Rod Sterling Hawkins, is 39 and works full-time in information technology during the week. He prefers to be called “Rod Sterling,” because he gets a kick out of the fact that the name just barely differentiates him from Rod Serling, host of the 1960s science fiction television show “The Twilight Zone.”

As a child, Sterling was fascinated by the occult and the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum in Myrtle Beach. He began collecting oddity items, such as 1940s comic books and horror fiction, at the age of 18. Two years ago, he decided he wanted to turn the hobby into a business.

“I guess you could say I’ve always been interested in things that go ‘bump’ in the night,” he said.

About a year and a half ago, he started selling pork rinds with a friend who owns a Mexican restaurant in the outdoor portion of the flea market. The market’s manager, Marshall Stewart, saw potential in Sterling’s ability to sell whatever was put in front of him. After raising $2,500, Sterling opened The Little Leviathan in the indoor flea market in November of 2012.

The space is 208 square feet and has about 40 regular patrons. Sterling has also built a small staff of volunteers, all of whom were initially customers. The store doesn’t make enough to pay employees, other than Sterling, who pockets a small sum.

Earlier this month, Sterling opened the second location with $10,000 he borrowed from a friend. He pays $800 a month for rent.

At the flea market, which is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, an average weekend yields about 400 customers, but a slow weekend might see as few as 60 people. The new brick-and-mortar store is only open on weekends, too.

Many of the items sold come from customers who are eager to share parts of their own collections with the store. Customers can also request specific items for the staff to track down via the store’s website. Other things come from the staffers themselves, many of whom are artists and collectors.

The store is not your typical – well, anything – but that’s what makes it great, Stewart said.

“In business, there’s a certain circle,” Stewart said. “Rod is definitely outside the circle.”

Much of the store’s personality reflects the personal interests of the staff. A corner of the Powell Drive store is referred to as “Sin City,” and features cartoon pop art of smiling devilish women.

Although some people are cautious or afraid of the store, the staff places a large emphasis on welcoming everyone, including like-minded archaic aficionados and elderly couples in search of a centuries-old Martin Luther Bible. The store carries more Bibles than any other book, he said.

“Not everyone is into shrunken heads and poison bottles or whatever, we want this all to be appropriate for anybody,” Sterling said. “We’re open to (customers) to make them a part of our family. We want them to know they’re always welcome.”

Finaldi: 919-829-4582 or twitter.com/lauraefinaldi

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