by Eliot Mueting
Passion and enthusiasm are contagious, when you walk into Gargoyles Statuary on The Ave your senses are immediately invaded and you know you have arrived at a place full of both. Gargoyles provides an experience and one that can only be found in the U District.
The heart beat of this sanctuary flows from owner and operator Gayle Nowicki and her 5 employees. Since 1992 this shop has been selling statues, figurines, charms, lanterns, taxidermy, incense, candles, original and local art from the all the world's regions, religions, and mythologies. The staff at Gargoyles find themselves playing the roll of tour guide more so than merchant as passerby and long time customers step into their world. Gargoyles celebrates the macabre and the seemingly subversive by telling the stories behind the objects they market for sale, often changing first time visitors perception from idea of the store being a "scary" place to one that sees it for what it is, a wonderful, welcoming and completely unique shopping destination. It's true the brand of Gargoyles as a place is so strong that few people fail to notice their extravagant window displays typically full of decorative skulls, skeletons and dragons and one could see how before you ever went into the store and hear Gayle describe the true meaning behind the pentagram or a particular dragon figurine, someone could see the dark incense wafting entry way as "scary".
I sat down with Gayle to hear about the past, present and future of Gargoyles Statuary. Gargoyles was first opened in 1992 by a pair of graphic artists who sold statues and beads out of their location on NE 45th just west of the alley that bisects the 4300 block of University Way NE in the space currently occupied by Slate Coffee Roasters. One year later the shop moved to its current location and shortly after a Valentines Day fire in 1995 that broke out in the store (which is still celebrated to this day with Gargoyles Cremation sale) Gayle Nowicki assumed ownership. From her constantly engaged demeanor and smile it is obvious that Nowicki loves what she does, and this makes shoppers love it too.
"I love challenging and changing people's minds" says Nowicki "People have a perception of Gargoyles before they ever come in, and when they leave, they leave with that idea of what this place is completely transformed."
As the driving force behind the neighborhood's longstanding 3rd Friday of the month Art Walks Gayle's fierce passion for the product she provides extends to her love and connection to the community around her. This is prevalent in her boasting of how 75% of their statues, which total well into the 100s of unique pieces, come from materials sourced within 100 miles of her store.
"We are constantly searching, featuring and engaging with the local artist community"
Gayle continues to collaborate with other businesses in the neighborhood. One piece of excellent synergy she has been involved in is providing the Neptune Theater with it's iconic faces of Neptune along the building's facade.
Like other businesses located in the U District, Gargoyles enjoys the proximity to the University of Washington and its constant churn of new students. One of the things that brings Gayle the most joy is when alumni return to the neighborhood after years away and remark about how glad they are to be back in Gargoyles.
Today Gayle attributes some of her success to her robust social media presence and her ability to access a larger market that way. In the future Nowicki hopes to grow Gargoyles web presence even larger and perhaps expand her shop to include cafe like amenities enhancing her shops' ability to continue to serve as a sanctuary for all people curious enough to stop by.
If you have never been inside Gargoyles you ought to stop in, say hello to Gayle and her team and prepare to have your day transformed.