• Mary Wagner

Moth Meet Flame: Local Businesses Part 1

It was August of last year. I was sitting on the couch, curled up with my French bulldog at my feet, and scrolling through my Instagram feed. A local Colorado Springs account shared a post of what looked like a woman cutting a ribbon on a sidewalk.

A grand opening today? My eyes darted all over the screen to read the caption. There was a bright yellow neon sign in the window. It looked devilish. The young woman cutting the ribbon was wearing black jeans, a burnt-orange graphic tee. She had jet-black hair, a black mask and her arm was covered in tattoos.

I was intrigued. My obsession with hunting down local businesses to see how and why they do what they do started when, at 21, I became a reporter in a town just outside of St. Louis. My position consisted of writing and publishing business stories on the city’s website and social media. It was free advertising for the businesses, but I was excited to have even a hint of power to make a difference in supporting someone else’s dream. The way small-town proprietors lit up to share their stories and tell me their “why” for their purpose in life was the bright light I was attracted to.

So there I was, a moth looking for another flame. Even though I was in a mid-sized mountain city, I felt compelled to look for small businesses and support them when I can. I tapped on the screen to find the woman and store tagged in the photo. Novis Mortem Collective. It was a four-minute drive from my house and they would be open tomorrow.

I scrolled down to see the business owner’s older posts. She had two Great Danes. Pins. Earrings. A bug? Dead butterflies. An animal skull. A skeleton of a... bat? They were all decorated in glass domes and displayed on shelves. How did she end up in town, though? Colorado Springs is rather conservative, bursting at the seams with mega churches and military bases so this was not my first idea for establishing a store like this. It's radical.

The next day came. Thinking about how to fit in with the scene, I dressed up with my favorite pair of light-washed ripped jean shorts, a simple black t-shirt, black face mask and black sandals. I begin visualizing all of the ways I can start a conversation with the Novis Mortem Collective owner and how she may be a fun friend to have. Seeing that we were both women and own businesses, I wanted to learn more about her background and tell her about my freelance work as a social media manager and PR person. I’ll bring my business card just in case.

My husband may be disciplined( always going by a plan in the Army), but he’s learned to let me have my spontaneous whims and shares my excitement for finding local gems everywhere we go. Colorado Springs’ downtown only consisted of one main street, so Novis Mortem Collective was very easy to find. We arrived at a wide-open black door. The neon sign with a skull in the window was shining.

Industrial shelves lined up the walls. Dome cases with… dead butterflies. Not unsightly, but vibrant. Electric blue. Sunset moths. Raccoon skulls and bird skeletons, perched on tiny branches. And there she was, the owner. Standing tall among the oddities. Jet-black hair. She welcomed us in.

“I saw your store on Instagram yesterday so we had to check you out. It looks amazing!” I complimented her.

“Yesterday was crazy,” she responded in an accent. “I sold so many glass domes! Not everyone enjoys the odd things here, but many people seem to love it!”

My husband walked over to a shelf to look at a glass dome with a collection of three Madagascar Sunset Moths on a black twisty branch, with tiny lights attached. It glowed purple. He took it off the shelf to buy it and started asking the owner more questions. She shared her name was Bea and she was originally from Germany and has traveled all over including New York City, one of her favorite places.

“We’re actually planning to move to New York City! Hopefully by October or November,” we told her.

“So soon? We just met!” she laughed. “I have a list of places for you guys to check out. More oddity shops like mine. And speakeasies!” Bea said as she carefully wrapped our newest purchase.

“Actually, I have my contact information right here,” I told her before grabbing the shopping bag. I smiled under my mask and pulled the business card out of my wallet.

Jake and I waved goodbye and headed back to the car, already discussing when we should go back to visit. My phone buzzed from a notification. It’s an Instagram message from Bea, asking more about my freelance business and sending New York City recommendations such as Spyglass, Bathtub Gin, and Beetle House. I thanked her for the great visit and told her we’d be back again to buy a bat skeleton. We soon exchanged messages weekly and I'm proud to say our shelves in our apartment are now home to four glass domes full of Bea’s creations.

All pictures taken by Mary Wagner / Boudreau + Co.