Gabbora, whose name I’m probably spelling completely wrong, was Mimi’s pitbull mix who watched over her and the customers at Exile on Grace Street. This blog, by Mollie who used to work at Grace Place next door, brought a lot of memories back.

Exile was the completely cool store that sat on Grace Street, and I hope still sits there, next to the Biograph Theater. It was full of all the accessories a punk or punk wannabe would need: Doc Martens, Manic Panic hair dye, studded bracelets and belts, body jewelry, as well as vintage clothing, shoes, and bags. I also remember the walls being studded with T-shirts of old blues guys: Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell. I had just discovered Blues music, and I remember wondering if being blind was a pre-requisite or something.

Mimi used to tell me it was the sale of Manic Panic that kept her in business, she couldn’t keep the stuff in stock. I wonder if that’s still true.

Gaborra patrolled the store, along with her companion, a half-blind husky whose name I forget. Gaborra was all black, and looked menacing, but was actually a big teddy bear who loved having her belly rubbed. She was a big, sweet thing who everyone at first feared, then fell in love with.

Mimi had named her after “Gaborra, the Gorilla Girl” a sideshow freak who performed, and for all I know still performs each year at the Virginia State Fair. A scantily-clad female appears in a cage, the sideshow barker comes out, and makes his pronouncements. “No one has ever seen the likes of GA—-BOR—A!” and “You will be stunned, speechless, amazed!” Then, the lights lower and change, and while the barker begins to shout, growing louder and louder with each word “Gaborra, Gaborra, Gaborra, Gaborra, Gaborra…..” the woman turns into a gorilla right before our eyes. It’s a trick of the lights I know, but the show is such a spectacle and so hilarious in its “fakery” that you can’t help but love it.

Mollie’s blog reminded me about Grace Place – I remembered there was an awesome vegetarian place next door but couldn’t remember the name. Kathryn, Mimi and I would make food and drink runs there constantly since it was so nearby. Great food, and I loved the patio they had out back. I had quite a few dates, blind and otherwise, back there and I distinctly remember asking my roommate Kim to watch my cats so I could go to Scotland, and was stunned when she agreed. It’s weird what you remember when you think of a place.

Mollie also helped me remember about the “draft door” at Exile. Mollie explains this better than I can, but basically, there was a vestibule before you came in the store, where the $1 rack was. If you didn’t shut the door firmly, it would come back open. Mimi was always making sure the dogs wouldn’t “make a run for it” or you wouldn’t let out the heat in the winter. “Shut the door please!” was a constant request, particularly around September, when the new crop of “just arrived at art school and need to express myself” young folks would come tramping through the door.

I remember I had a great pair of green Israeli Army boots I bought from Exile, and wore for years and years until they fell apart.

I remember a guy completely covered in tattoos who worked there. When I found out that he got tattoos because the pain of the needle took his mind off the screaming pain of the headaches he always had, I was filled with sympathy and a new appreciation of the “Don’t judge a book…” thing.

I remember Mimi recommending a tattoo guy to me when I finally decided to overcome my own fear of needles enough to get one, the first of many of my own, I hope, but that’s a WHOLE other story.

I remember having a huge crush on a guy who worked the counter, but can’t remember now what he looked like or his name. Just remember my heart beating out of my chest practically when I would shut the creaking door, walk cooly to the back of the store, and pretend to browse through the vintage bags, my weakness.

I remember Mimi’s black bob, which I was always jealous of because my face was too round to wear in such a Louise Brooks style. Mimi was generous to a fault, could be gruff when she wanted, and I was always a little intimidated by her, even when I worked upstairs at World of Mirth. She taught me to swing dance, she exposed me first to the people of the Blues, and African Art (along with her Mom, who had this great shop out on 301 in an antique market). I’m sure they never knew it, but she and Kathryn were two of the first people who made a little, dorky girl from Northside feel not so freakish, but accepted. They helped me come out of the thick shell of fear I had built around myself by the time I was 20.

Whew, that’s a lot to admit on a Friday. But it’s true. Thanks ladies. Big Love.

3 thoughts on “Gabbora

  1. hey there, jjl.what a great story.I was going to recount the story of the dollar rack in my entry, but I didn’t want to stray too far off. I was trying to remember what the deal was. I would walk up to the counter with one thing off the rack (that’s how poor I was- mimi wasn’t making money from me) and she would say to me, “pleeez…pleeez pick something else out!” and i’d go back to the rack- cause it was like $1 for one, $2 for 3? something like that.

  2. Hmmmmmmm……..I can’t remember! I think I was so busy making sure the door stayed shut. 🙂 Thank you again, I had totally forgotten about the dollar rack “deals”. I wonder if Exile is still open?

  3. yes, exile is still open. last time I was in richmond, I must have stopped by on a sunday- she was closed.where do you live now? did you go to vcu? you and the other person that commented on my blog are around the same age as I, but I went to vcu when I was 26. so most of the people I know are younger.

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