Glitters owner Gary Barskey hopes the “Going Out of Business Sale” sign in his window at 529 S. Elm St. will prove to be a fib or at least an overly negative prognosis. As owner and operator of the store that, as his slogan says, has been “delighting downtown Greensboro with everything you never knew you wanted since 1988,” he’s seen the tough time before.
I have a personal stake in his survival and believe that Greensboro will be a sadder and drabber place if he does not ride this one out.
For decades now, his eccentric establishment has been my one-stop shop for knick-knacks to pop into care packages and delight my friends and pen pals across the country. Other customers shop at Glitters for the glass pipes, T-shirts, postcards, winged bulldog statues, replicas of vintage toys and board games, creepy unicorn and banana slug masks and general head shop paraphernalia. My own repeated purchases are even more eccentric and often cheaper.
I’m talking about zombie finger puppets, wiggly rubber “monster women” with retro glamour girl heads and bombshell torsos but reptilian or insectoid appendages, plastic guns with which you can fire harmless potato pellets at your cat or spouse, real huge insects preserved under glass, and Grow Your Own Triops kits. The last is one of my favorites. They are like the Sea Monkeys of our pop culture childhood, only without the bitter disappointment and unsavory associations. The hardy, easy-to-grow, prehistoric-looking, freshwater crustaceans called Triops not only have three eyes but can get to be three inches long, six times bigger than the tiny boring brine shrimp.
Barskey’s business has improved since he moved south from his location of 27 years at the corner of Elm and Washington, but he’s carrying a heavy load. “We want to try to come back from this,” he said. “It’s just that the debt from the last four or five years has been pretty treacherous on me. It’s credit card debt that got built up when things were slow, and then the move, and I just can’t seem to get my head above water, which is very scary. So I’m running the back half of the store at 50 percent off, and I have stuff in storage that I can bring down and fit in here because we can always build back up.”
Barskey said he first got into this business in the early 1980s when he had some booths at the Buckhorn Flea Market in Orange County for three or four years before he opened Glitters.
“That that was back when the Fed was taking people’s sailboats for owning rolling papers,” he said. “The lawyers who owned the land that Buckhorn Flea Market was on, they had it registered as a tree farm, and they got a little paranoid that I was selling pipes. That’s when I moved to Greensboro.”
His first location was at South Elm and McGee. “We opened, I think, in June of 1988, where Natty Greene’s is now,” he said. “We were there for three years, and then there were problems with the person who bought the building, and we moved to South Elm and West Washington, where we were for 27 years. We’ve only been here at 529 South Elm since mid-February.”
Like so many other specialty shops, Glitters has been hurt by the internet. “That has hit us,” he said. “Some of the suppliers, like on shirts, are also running their own websites. A shirt I might pay $13 for, they’re selling for $13.50.”
Glitters is not only pre-Internet, but pre-Walmart, pre-Target, as well. None of those places were selling Barskey’s stuff, but unlike them, he said Glitters tried to find the best quality stuff they can get. “Now, people will go online and find something that isn’t made as well, but it’s a quarter of the price,” he said. “ But I want to stress how grateful I am to our customers over the years. We try and find things that they’re not finding everywhere else, and they do appreciate us for it.”
Barskey is also grateful to the women who’ve helped curate his inventory over the years. “I have to thank my wife Martha Smith and my daughters Desiree and Miranda for their taste in products,” he said.
Barskey said he wanted to thank Zack Methany and Downtown Greensboro for helping him with money to get all the plaster off the walls and fix the place up a bit.
“I’m just trying to survive, to make it viable again, because this is a good location and it should work out good down here.”