January 11, 2006 News & Features » Cover Story


Kathryn Harvey's Imaginative Eye 

I always felt at home in World of Mirth, probably because it was so familiar for so long. As a staff writer at Style I'd first met Harvey at her vintage collectibles shop above Exile on Grace Street in the Fan. I borrowed various items — an old picnic tablecloth or a cool lamp made by local artist Paul Teeples — to photograph for our Home Style section or holiday gift guide. Often, she'd call to tell me about a new find, something worth mentioning in the magazine. Because we had a similar feel for kitsch and camp, I trusted her tips and nearly always followed up.

Further evidence of Harvey's aesthetic sensibility could be found outside her shop. She recently stocked a booth at the Stratford Hills Antique Center with collectible retro items for sale. In the fall she donated a craft kit and Mexican flags to Second Presbyterian Church Child Care Center for a special project the children were doing. And years ago, when I wrote an article about the kitchen she and her husband, Bryan, renovated in their former Church Hill home facing Chimborazo Park, I discovered her domestic style. The kitchen was a warm space with retro details. Talking with the couple, I could see they were a team, friendly and open about how they'd married good design to function in their old house. I felt lucky to know them because they each had a palpable energy and creativity that merged together and flowed into all areas of their lives.

When Kathryn Harvey told me, sort of secretly, the deal just barely done, that she was going to be opening a new place in Carytown, I shared her excitement. Moving on up! Finally, lots more people would check out her vintage wares and conveniently purchase such funky stuff as fake ants, potato guns and plastic figurines of St. Clare, patron saint of television. Oh, how I loved her retail sense. What a treat it was to get a call from her saying, "We just got these really great Mexican wrestler masks. … You've got to see them!"

The first space on Cary Street had more of the same merchandise but with an added bonus. Bryan built a tiki bar in the back of the store complete with tiki lanterns, tiki totems, tiki glasses — a destination for anyone wanting a cool drink. Kathryn was amused and delighted. She never rolled her eyes in the way some wives do when their husbands do something a little offbeat. She was totally into it and obviously adored him.

When she joined up with Plan 9's owner, Jim Bland, to go big time with the World of Mirth store, I was so happy for her, and I knew it would hit the mark in terms of cool. I had attended Toy Fair, the toy store buyers' Shangri-La in New York City, and I recall telling her how envious I was of the buying she'd be doing. She searched and found every fabulous toy the industry offered.

When the store opened, it was chock-full of wonderful things in an atmosphere of light, sound and color. Her eye for display and juxtaposition of different kinds of merchandise made the shop a necessary stop for anyone passing by. Children and their parents, greeted by a sidewalk fun-house mirror and bubbles, flocked to the hands-on array of fun stuff. Again, Bryan was part of the scene when Christmas rolled around, and he did a gig in the back of the store as Fat Elvis, dressed in a Santa suit and crooning the King's tunes. Every season, Kathryn had a new and more imaginative window display that combined humor and sweetness — my personal favorite being this past Easter's. I loved the sweet faces of soft, furry, stuffed bunnies wearing serapes and sitting by campfires and in teepees.

Long after I left Style, when I saw Kathryn in the store she asked about my children and my new job. I was so happy to see her start a family. Stella and later Ruby were both carried like basketballs on the front of her trim figure. Anecdotes of retail adventures, tales of juggling motherhood and part-time employees' schedules and store hours, a love of everything she sold — these were things we shared. And I know I'm not alone in my sadness at the loss of many more of those moments with a girl with dark eyes and bangs who sparkled when she laughed and should have lived many more years.



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