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Updated: June 26, 2023 Shop Talk

Q&A: Leicester curiosity shop delights in the whimsical, witchy, and retro

A photo of Hayley Worthington in her shop PHOTO | MONICA BENEVIDES Hayley Worthington, owner of Vintage Rebel Curiosity Shop in Leicester

The logo for Vintage Rebel Curiosity Shop in Leicester refers to itself as “We’re one of those ‘don't know you need it until you see it’ kind of stores.” Bursting with nostalgia — think, Garfield glassware and vintage records — as well as wares made by local vendors, the shop’s shelves are always changing. Open since November, owner Hayley Worthington prioritizes working with makers who identify as women and/or as part of the LGBTQ+ community, aiming to cultivate a space where all feel welcome. A veteran of the flea market and cannabis industries, she brings an eye for the whimsical, witchy, and retro.

How does one define a curiosity shop?

In essence, a curiosity shop is meant to be thought-provoking and alluring. For us, this means offering such a wide range of inventory so anybody can find something they connect with. Additionally, this means having items generally considered to be strange or unusual. We want our customers to walk through our doors unsure of what they might find but are captivated to find out.

Worthington is 25, lives in Sturbridge, and has a bachelor's degree from Worcester State University.
Facts and figures about Hayley Worthington, Vintage Rebel Curiosity Shop

Completely referencing the movie "Midnight in Paris," where curiosity shops play a role in the plot, is there an inherent nostalgic element involved?

Like that movie’s character Gil, I crave connections to past times I have not experienced. While I do find myself content living in our current time, I long to connect to the emotions of past decades.

How did you come into this business?

Growing up, I struggled to decide my purpose. I tried a little bit of everything in an attempt to find my passion. I held some decent jobs, working hard and moving up to leadership positions, but it just wasn’t enough. I quit my job determined to start a business, but with no idea what to offer! As fate would have it, a family friend owned an antique store and was looking to get out of the business. Without a second thought, I made him an offer It had more of an antique, older vibe than I was going for. I did three weeks of renovations; I had to get open for Small Business Saturday.

That sounds like a Hallmark movie.

It was totally meant to be. I always wanted to start a business, but I didn't know what I wanted to do.

How did you come up with the name?

I did an internet search for word combinations including “vintage.” The option that peaked my interest was Vintage Rebel. For me, that meant someone who was a rebel and a leader because their thoughts were ahead of their time. People like Audre Lorde, Christine Jorgensen, and Harvey Milk came to mind.

How do people end up selling their goods at Vintage Rebel?

I have a lot of people come in and ask, and I have people message me online. I do have a waiting-list form. I always have a list if I ever desperately need somebody, but I get a lot more requests than I could ever have in the store. It's really rare I have a day somebody doesn't ask.

Describe your vibe and vision.

I like 70s to 90s vintage colorful, nostalgic vibes – just things making you think of your childhood. I like my generation as well as my mom's generation. I try to target in between that and speak to their childhoods. I try to gear away from merchandise that is too fancy. I'm more into the casual everyday person, as opposed to the fancy, uppity kind of stuff.

Who is your clientele?

I would describe them, honestly, as the outcasts who can’t find a place of their own. The people happiest to walk in here are generally LGBT people or musician types who get judged a lot of places they go. They walk in and instantly are like, “You’re me.” Because it was an existing business and it was an older man running it for a long time, in the beginning there were older people expecting him to still be here. They've sorted of started to shift out and the younger people are starting to make their way in. I have people travel from all over; I've had people come out from Salem, all over the place, just because they saw it on social media and knew it was comfortable here.

How do people find you?

It's a mix of “I found you on social media and I had to come,” and the skeleton hand on the sign attracts my clientele. I'm always glad when somebody says that because I very intentionally thought about how if I saw skeleton hand on a sign, I would pull over immediately.

You’ve started a book club with A Great Notion bookstore in Auburn.

Yeah, they're awesome. We had been wanting to start a book club but were unsure about how many we could fit in the space. They posted they were looking for somebody to run their first adult book club, and I reached out. They're great to work with. We've put out polls on what type of books people want, and horror, witchy, creepy stuff won by a landslide.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Correspondent Monica Benevides.

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