Elwood: It’s a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.
Jake: Hit it.
OK, maybe our trip to Wolf Myrow didn’t start off with snappy dialog, but I was game as soon as a friend suggested we take a break from Clay ConneCTion 2012 in New London and head to Wolf Myrow in neaby Providence RI. “And don’t wear good clothes,” he added. I had never been to Wolf Myrow before, but I’d heard about it and was eager to go.
Some background: The U.S. costume jewelry industry was born in Providence, Rhode Island 1794, when Nehemiah Dodge, a local goldsmith and watchmaker, developed a gold plating process that opened up the jewelry market to mass production. Providence became a major player in the costume jewelry industry and, at one time, employed thousands in its factories. In fact, New England was once filled with factories from the looms of Lowell to the textile mills of Lawrence and the paper mills of Maine. Hardly any factories exist anymore but one can spot the abandoned buildings with their stone walls and multi-paned windows near the cities’ outskirts close to rivers and railroad tracks.
Wolf Myrow is a left over from those heady manufacturing days. It buys and sells jewelry findings and beads, mostly discontinued or old and items left over when a factory closes. Poking around the vast Wolf Myrow inventory gives a feeling similar to exploring your Grandmother’s attic; the sense of mystery and discovery is heightened by the plain paper packaging and boxes that hold most of the items offered for sale.
We approached the ware house from hilly street on the edge of town, parked the car on a narrow gravel driveway and entered through a heavy fire door. The air smelled musty and old. We made our way down a narrow hallway over ancient wood floors worn smooth from years of use. Then I entered the main room and felt like I had walked into a store in Diagon Alley.
It was crowded with rows of towering rusty metal shelves and every shelf was piled with cardboard boxes bearing faded type written labels. I saw a yellowed newspaper lying on a massive dark wooden counter next to an antique cast iron scale. I felt like I had walked back in time.
And everywhere I turned, I saw a door to another room. There are so many rooms that they kept the lights off to save electricity, but the light switches were clearly marked in case anyone wanted to shop there. Each room I entered contained rows of old metal shelves piled with dusty cardboard boxes.
I walked into a room and switched on the light. I felt like I was the first person who had entered that room in years. As I made my way down an aisle I stopped for no reason, pulled a box off a shelf and opened it. I saw scores of a brass stamping that reminded me of a brooch an aunt wore when I was a child, a memory I had forgotten.
When you open a box, you might pull out copper bracelet blanks. Or brass chain. Or glass pearls. Or Swarovski crystals wrapped in crisp paper packets.
Customers are required to purchase items in bulk and most things are sold by weight. If you go with a few friends, you can swap purchases with one another and come away with an assortment of products . The staff is nice and extremely helpful.
Press here for a link to the website and catalog that will give you an idea of that Wolf Myrow sells. But take it from me, there is no substitute for a visit to the warehouse in Providence. Thank You Nehemiah.