I’ll admit, I was nervous. When word came a few months ago that Dysfunctional Grace was pulling up stakes from its location on St. Pete’s Central Avenue for a larger space in Ybor, I wondered what fate held. If the move was a flop, where would Tampa Bay get its authentic 19th century burial shrouds? Its life-sized robotic giraffes? Its Christian-themed sex toys?
St. Pete, after all, is the home of Tampa Bay’s weirdos, freaks, and nihilists — just the type of folks who should swoon over the goodies at this oddest of all odds-n-ends shops. And Dysfunctional Grace has been stunningly successful, outgrowing three different St. Pete locations since opening in March of 2012.
The shop, co-founded by Liz Furlong and Daniel James, started out largely focused on James’s detourned-taxidermy sculptures, but strange antiques like Masonic regalia and speculums (Google it) turned out to be a hit, too.
But how would Ybor, with a vibe that’s a little more fartsy than artsy, respond?
Apparently, with open arms (though granted, those arms are weirdly sweaty, and they’re carrying a slice of pizza). According to Furlong, the new Dysfunctional Grace did as much business in its first eight days in Ybor as they used to do in an entire month in St. Pete. Partly that’s down to the finer points of location — while the St. Pete shop was technically a few steps off Central, the new Ybor location is right on the main strip, next to the new Blind Tiger coffee/clothing/coworking operation. In a further bit of synergy, James also owns the excellent and equally well-decorated Bobby Pin Hair Gallery around the corner.
Ybor may also, in its own way, be a little more conducive to the idea that you really have to have an alligator foot preserved in formaldehyde. According to a staffer at DG, foot traffic at the Central Ave. location pretty much dried up after 5pm, but things keep rolling in Ybor until the shop closes up — around 6 on weekdays, and 8 or 9 on a Friday or Saturday. And you can imagine that wallets, like morals, get looser as the night deepens.
Dysfunctional Grace is one of several edgy shops and galleries to leave Central Avenue recently, including Pale Horse Design, Blue Lucy, and Saint Paint. And new shops opening on the street are predominantly clothing boutiques — maybe a bit of a bellwether of the double-edged nature of St. Pete’s continued ascent. (And to anyone who hasn’t stopped by in recent years, the idea that Ybor is a legit after-dark destination might still be news. The times, they are a-changin’.)
To celebrate the move and ensuing immediate success, Dysfunctional Grace is throwing a shindig (okay, to be precise, they’re calling it a “Hootenanny”) on Friday, May 29, at the shop at 1903 E. Seventh Ave. The party will feature interstitial Rocky Horror Picture Show riffing from the Cheap Little Punks troupe, music courtesy of St. Pete’s Planet Retro vinyl shop, and tasty bites from Acropolis Greek Taverna.
It’ll be a great chance to check out the new digs, which have room for a lot more stuff. That already includes goods from local makers of everything from leather corsets to notebooks to sculpture, all with a distinctive Dysfunctional vibe. Handmade soap can’t be far behind — though on second thought, I’m not sure I’d purchase toiletries from a place that features something called an “autopsy drain”.
Dysfunctional Grace’s success is pretty thrilling for those of us living at the edge of weirdness in Tampa Bay. We are not alone! And even if St. Petersburgers have to drive a little farther, the shop's expansion is a win for everyone.
Oh, and P.S. — All those alligator skulls and paws? They’re hunted by a licensed local, and cleaned by Furlong. She says that gators are by far the most disgusting of the many animals she’s stripped and cleaned. The more you know!