By Stephanie Rosenblatt
Iguana Import Gallery has been a fixture in the Heights since 1993. The store sells folk art, textiles, stationery, jewelry, candles, leatherwork, and unique furniture sourced locally and internationally. Tom Reed and his husband, Jorge Valdez, residents of Rose Park, started the business because they realized owning their own business was the only way they would be able to live authentically and freely. They were tired of having to hide who they were at work and they wanted to promote curiosity about the world and its cultures.
Iguana specializes in folk art, which Tom describes as art that evolves as a culture evolves and is traditionally made with techniques passed down through generations. Walking through the store you can see one-of-a-kind objects from almost every continent. The store also smells really good. As you walk around, examining objects for sale, the smell of incense and soft music makes your heart rate drop.
When Iguana shut down on March 19, Tom thought they were closing for just two weeks – he had no idea the closure would last for three months. He and Jorge quickly set up a routine where they would come into the shop for a few hours a day to ship merchandise that had been ordered online. He credits that routine for getting them through the extended shutdown.
Iguana had a web presence before they physically closed and was getting business through Etsy and eBay. But Tom stressed how much work it takes to sell one-of-a-kind merchandise online, so they focused on adding to their website the few items they had in bulk: candles and incense. That strategy worked for them. Their biggest surprise during the shut-down was how many people ordered incense, including customers around the world. They sold out; but don’t worry, incense is back in stock.
When asked about what it has been like to reopen his business in the midst of the pandemic and civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Tom replied that while it feels like, “The whole world is upside down, in life we are always challenged,” and that the most important thing we can do is to show each other love. That spirit of love and curiosity continues to animate Iguana. Stop by and take a deep, calming breath.
The store physically reopened with regular business hours the second week of June and if you forget your facemask, they have one for you.
Iguana Import Gallery
440 E. Broadway
Monday – Saturday 11:00 am – 7:00 pm;
Sunday 11:00 am – 6:00 pm.