In a glass case rests a rainbow of brilliant crystals cut into points, pyramids and glittering orbs. Art pieces with swirling patterns made out of pinned butterflies and beetles with iridescent exoskeletons hang on the walls next to a whole zoo of taxidermied animal heads. There are ammonite fossils, chunks of coral and even a giant stuffed rattlesnake.
No, that isn’t a list of exhibits at the Smithsonian — it’s just some of the wares in stock at The Evolution Store, a family-run collectible store specializing in all things natural history. Located just around the corner from campus on Broadway and West 4th Street, Evolution is a menagerie of antiques, art and artifacts curated from all around the world.
The Evolution Store began as the personal collection of Bill Stevens, a native Long Islander with a passion for international travel. Some people collect stamps, or Pokémon cards. Stevens‘s collection consisted of gems, fossils and other oddities gathered from his days traveling the world.
When Stevens decided to share his collection with the public, he founded the store in 1993. The business stayed in the family for nearly three decades. His daughter, Julianna, was just five years old when she first involved with the store. She has owned and operated the business since 2015.
Some of the items in The Evolution Store are not for the faint of heart. Fair warning: if you’re like my arachnophobic roommate, you may not enjoy their selection of taxidermied tarantulas. However, if you’re someone with an iron stomach, you might want to try some of their candies and snacks — made with real bugs. Who doesn’t love a scrumptious chocolate-dipped insect or something called a “dessert scorpion”?
However, not everything for sale at The Evolution Store is so extreme. They also stock plenty of tamer wares, like Brazilian agate-slice coasters or art prints with detailed anatomical illustrations. You can also find educational toys, puzzles and games focused on history and natural science, as well as apparel and accessories — most of which are relatively normal, aside from the statement piece that is the toad purse.
If you’re looking for something even more unique than what’s in stock, The Evolution Store has you covered. In addition to their New York City retail location, they have a workshop located in the Catskills dedicated to crafting custom pieces with artifacts and specimens sourced from vendors around the globe. You may even have seen a custom Evolution work before — they regularly create set pieces for TV and film productions, magazine photoshoots and professional interior designers.
During the pandemic, many New Yorkers are not so keen on shopping in-person. Thankfully, The Evolution Store also has a website, where you can browse their collection and shop from the comfort of your own home. However, I personally recommend going in-person when you’re comfortable with it, because the store feels more like a museum exhibit than a retail location.
The Evolution Store is significant to me because it was one of the first truly strange and unique things I experienced in New York City as a first-year. In my Southern suburban hometown, we don’t exactly have shops where you can swing by and pick up a taxidermied peacock or a five-foot-tall amethyst geode. Stepping into the store, I realized that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, and I was loving it.
I bought a small crystal that day, a chunk of bismuth that captivated me with its rainbow sheen and funky cubic form. It’s something that looks too strange to be anything other than man-made, yet is a pure product of nature. The store is full of these kinds of items, objects so exotic and weird that you almost can’t believe they are real and for sale.
I still get the same feeling every time I visit The Evolution Store — a mix of awe, curiosity and a tiny bit of nausea (spiders aren’t exactly my cup of tea either). It’s always a blast to stop by before class and see what kind of bizarre new things they have in stock.
The Evolution Store is so much more than just a small business — it’s a full-on natural history museum. Even if you don’t have the budget for a giant moose head, or your dorm aesthetic doesn’t happen to include art made out of real bugs, it’s still weird and wonderful enough to merit a visit.
Email Sam Brinton at [email protected]