My concentration was lacking, as my senses went into overload during my interview with Rowley Ocampo, owner of Rolo, all due to the overwhelming number of fascinating items he has on display in his store.
Rolo (aka Realm of Ludicrous Objects), located at 24 Bellair Street, is a store that is hard to describe. Rowley helps me out, “We are what I call “Crashy,” also known as classy-trashy. Everything is mixed in together. To us it’s normal. This is just how diverse our merchandise is. On our website, in the Drinks Section, I have a Kanye sitting on the back of Jesus drink marker, and then I have a $250 Alessi Chiringuito cocktail shaker.”
My mind is still boggled, and it makes me wonder how on earth it came to be that Rowley decided to open such a shop in Bloor-Yorkville. He tells me that he practically spent his youth in the area. “I loved everything about this area, and I hung out here during that post-Hippy-esque time, right before it became high end and trendy. I worked at the General Store in Hazelton Lanes, then moved on to managing the Artemide Lighting showroom, to opening up Rolo in 2004.”
With his sales background at Artemide Lighting, Rowley opened Rolo with higher-end products on his shelves. “It was classy, because it was Bloor-Yorkville. We had $1,000 lamps, expensive kettles, hand-painted plates from Italy, but it wasn’t who I am. When your personality says differently, you tend to go towards what you really want to do. There were joke shops and sex shops, all over the place, and I like both, so we merged the two concepts. What we have here is a place like Spencer’s Gifts and the AGO, rolled into one store.”
Rowley suddenly shouts an enthusiastic, “Hi!” to a new customer. As he scoots over to show off wacky kitchen gadgets, his partner Blake Ellies, takes a moment to chat. I ask him about coming up with the name of the store. He said they needed a fun word when branding the business, and Rolo is a play on Rowley’s name. Apparently, everyone knows him as Rolo, “Among other names,” Blake adds with a slight smirk. “This store is not so much of the product, it’s about him. You notice this right away with the way he greets his customers. People will come in wanting something for a crazy aunt cat lady, and we have a lot of stuff for that. And he will find it for you.”
I point to the wording, on their business cards, which pronounce Rowley as a “Giftician.” Rowley is back in a flash and proudly tells me that he came up with that wording, and in the same breath shouts, “Enjoy! Check out Rolostore.com,” to his satisfied client. My mind continues to swim. That customer was in and out in 10 minutes, armed with gadgets and many items she didn’t expect to buy, and leaving behind the Boxed Wine Purse Cat. She will probably be back for it, when she finds someone on her Christmas list who is in desperate need of one.
Although Rowley didn’t know any of the customers who came in personally, I just know that his customers come back for more. “We find that a lot of our Bloor-Yorkville customers will not even tell their friends and family about us, because they don’t want people to know where they get their fantastic presents. We find our products at different gift shows, in Toronto and New York, throughout the year. We have to keep up with the hottest things. Office exchange, stocking stuffers, friendship exchange, you name it and we will find the craziest sh$t you can find!”
I get a tight hug as I make my leave, and I find myself in the unseasonably warm weather wondering if my mother needs a Boxed Wine Purse Cat more than I do. I resolve that we both need one, and I’ll be back to buy two.