It all started with soap, says Cary Gray. While visiting Nashville, Tennessee, she and her husband Michael — who own Rare Bird Uncommon Gifts and Gray Photography — were browsing an arts market when they came across a woman selling handmade soap wrapped in sheet music.
“We were so taken with her and her product that we said, ‘Hey, let’s just put a bowl of this up at the counter in the studio,” says Cary. “Then it just grew from there.”
As the couple collected more items from artists and makers around the country, their shop — located at 2605 Lincoln Ave. — began to expand as well. A counter display soon became one room. Then, the two decided to knock down a wall, which soon turned into a few more walls. Three years later, the retail storefront occupies the entire front of the building that once housed only their photography studio.
“It’s an eclectic shop that offers unique gift items,” says Cary. “That says a lot, but I really do think that’s true. We just wanted to offer some different things to the community.”
Cary and Michael — who also sing and play bass, respectively, in the local jazz band After Hours — fill their store with items they themselves love and enjoy, which has been popular with customers. The Grays say they have been happily surprised by the popularity of the products they offer.
“When you offer things you love, it’s real easy to put items out,” says Cary. “That’s validation there is an audience for this kind of shop. And that’s our goal, to keep bringing stuff in that’s unique, that makes people say, ‘Oh, I can’t believe you have this here.’”
The items filling the shelves and table displays range from jewelry pieces, soap and bath items, cards, original art, local coffee, and more. Most of the lines carried are made in the U.S. by artisans, with four local artists, three local jewelry makers, and a local leather worker as well.
“If there is a kind of quirkiness about someone or something in their personality, then you can find a little gift here that matches that,” says Michael. “They find each other here.”
Above all, the couple says they strive to be a happy place for customers to visit, have a cup of coffee, and make new friends. And building relationships with customers is an aspect of the shop the Grays take seriously.
“That’s the most important thing. We all want to have that place we can go,” says Cary. “We make friends here and we have a good time.”
For more information on Rare Birds Uncommon Gifts, call 812-473-0645 or visit rarebirdgifts.com.