I wish I’d come up with “Clutter My World,” but I stole the line from Laura Levine. That Laura is one smartypants—rock photographer, illustrator, filmmaker, and owner of the business I’d most like to work for—Homer and Langley’s Mystery Spot, in Phoenicia, New York.
The seven-room shop is named for Homer and Langley Collyer—brothers who died in 1947, crushed under 140 tons of “collectibles” in their Harlem apartment. Laura calls the Mystery Spot “a shrine to clutter.”
Though earlier iterations of the shop did have that warm, congested feeling I know and love, Laura’s current digs—in what was once the old Gormley Hotel in the Catskills—look more like something out of an extremely cool movie set. Collections of curiosities sit nestled on shelves, and paint-by-numbers and earnest religious artwork lines the walls. It’s part antiques store, part treasure hunt. Laura refers to the carefully curated shop as her “odditorium.”
“The thrill is most definitely in the hunt,” Laura says. “That’s always how it starts, isn’t it? Collecting is a slippery slope. One day you’re taking a leisurely Sunday drive checking out a few yard sales, and the next thing you know, you’ve bought a station wagon so you can cram all the vintage booty from a week-long flea market into the car.” (Ironically, I drive a station wagon, though I have no kids.)
But Laura is more than just my hoarding role model. She’s an accomplished New York–based artist who just happens to hoard. In the winter of 2011, I brought a high school class up to MoMA to an exhibit I knew they’d enjoy—“Looking at Music 3.0.” I got to tell seven teenagers that I actually knew one of the exhibit’s photographers—Laura Levine. I watched their impressions of me shift from “old fart” to the “cool teacher.”
Laura has also had her own one-person show at the Steven Kasher Gallery, and her work was recently acquired by the National Portrait Gallery for its permanent collection. But she still carves out time for estate sales and snow-globe acquisitions.
“The Mystery Spot is seasonal, and my helper, Grace, often holds down the fort,” Laura says. “But when I’m able to get away from the drawing table and work behind the counter, I love meeting my customers. I guess because of the type of shop it is, it attracts kindred spirits.”
She continues, “I’ve become great friends with some of my customers. I’ve met tons of art directors, designers, filmmakers, and fellow artists. Some of my favorite musicians have wandered in through the doors. Not to mention all sorts of people outside the art world who I might not get to know otherwise. Someone once called it the best networking spot in the Catskills.”
The Mystery Spot record collection is pretty impressive—I quickly spotted a timeless classic—Allan Sherman’s My Son, the Folksinger, an album I grew up listening to back in the olden days, before 8-track players. There were maxi and mini dresses, a pretty swell book collection, spooky dolls, and even a fish head—though the head was not for sale. Prices were more than fair, making the digging even more virtuous.
“I’ve always had a dream of a funky vintage shop of my own where I could create every aspect of the look, from the interior to the signage,” Laura says. “The signs, lettering, and T-shirts are just an extension of my natural style. I wish I had more time to devote to it, because believe me, I could take it much, much further.”
The last thing I need is more stuff. But with good pizza and good pancakes on the same road, it’s pretty hard to resist poking around the Mystery Spot again this summer. Maybe Laura will change her mind about selling me that fish head.
Homer and Langley’s Mystery Spot
72 Main Street
Phoenicia, NY 12464