Sunday, July 18, 2004

The Thing Shop closes a door on 'Sin City' era



By Cindy Schroeder
Enquirer staff writer

[photo]
Kris Carter, granddaughter of the woman who founded The Thing 34 years ago, carries provocative clothing as she reorganizes stock Thursday at the Newport store, getting ready for a going-out-of-business sale.
The Enquirer/PATRICK REDDY
NEWPORT - In its heyday, The Thing Shop catered to clientele known for taking it all off.

But now the shop is stripping down to its bare shelves as part of plans to go out of business July 27.

The Monmouth Street icon that once helped symbolize Newport's old "Sin City" reputation is peddling its stock of bustiers, piercing jewelry, fantasy costumes and "sexy-not-sleazy'' evening wear at 30 percent off.

The 34-year-old business will be replaced by an eclectic mix: Saxony Framing, a custom frame shop. Mary's Antiques featuring collectible Barbies; and Dragon Treasure Books, selling used science fiction and fantasy books. The space also will feature custom-made jewelry and tarot-card readings.

"I personally have never been in there, but I've known a lot of people who've shopped there,'' said former Newport Mayor Johnny "TV'' Peluso. "The gamblers used to go in now and then. And a lot of the women who were employed in the establishments ..."

When The Thing Shop opened in 1970, Newport boasted 23 adult entertainment establishments. Today there are two.

On a street where owners are on a first-name basis with regulars, folks say they'll be sorry to see The Thing Shop close.

"It's very sad,'' said Elvis performer Steve Chuke, owner of nearby Jewel King Jewelers. "You'd see all different kinds of people go in there. You'd see the dancers who used to work the clubs, gentlemen who wanted to buy some sexy lingerie for their wives or girlfriends, and everyone in between.

"It truly is the end of an era.''

But at 78, The Thing Shop owner Mary Curtis says she's ready to retire.

For decades, the elementary schoolteacher would race to The Thing Shop after a long day in the classroom to wait on customers, do the books and whip up one-of-a-kind sequined gowns for strippers, beauty pageant contestants and teenagers attending their first prom.

Four years after a disabling car accident, the retired mother of three wants to spend more time with her family and travel.

The changing market also is prompting The Thing Shop's closure, said Curtis's granddaughter, Kris Carter. She's worked off and on at the family business nearly half of her 31 years.

"Today, you can walk in anywhere and buy a thong,'' Carter said. "You can walk in anywhere and buy a teddy.

"We would have to go to an extreme edge in order to stay in business, and I don't think that's something we're interested in doing."

On Thursday, former dancer Dallas Cash reminisced, as the 64-year-old Cincinnati woman paged through scrapbooks featuring such satisfied Thing Shop customers as "Eartha Quake" and "Dolly Delicious.''

"I used to like the hairpieces and the wigs and the fishnet stockings,'' said Cash, who performed in Baltimore and Newport clubs from the 1960s until her retirement in 1980.

"I knew a lot of dancers who shopped here. Why? It was quality stuff. And you could get a good deal.''

Mary and her late husband, Bob, opened the business just up the street from its present location "with $500 worth of stuff'' in the summer of 1970.

The fellow schoolteachers started the venture partly to distract themselves when one of their sons went to fight in Vietnam.

Named for its original emphasis on odds and ends, or "things,'' by the late '70s the shop found its true niche: strippers.

"When the girls found out I could sew, they'd come in here with stuff that ... was falling apart and wanted me to repair it,'' Curtis recalled.

Rather than fix someone else's work, Curtis opted to sell her own creations.

By the time The Thing Shop had moved to its present location in 1978, it had evolved from selling antiques and collectibles to eveningwear and sexy lingerie.

"As the times changed, we changed with them,'' Curtis said.

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com




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