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Curiosity Shop thrives on Christmas experience

December 20, 2010

Jeanne Dostal, owner of Dostal's Curiosity Shop located on Brusselles St., prepares a display featuring Christmas nesting dolls. Photo by Amy Cherry

With Christmas right around the corner, patrons have been steadily visiting Dostal's Curiosity Shop, a longtime St. Marys business, which features a unique array of both international and local speciality items not found in typical toy or hobby stores. From Russian nesting dolls to Bavarian and German toys to an array of Nativity scenes from around the world, the shop offers items which pique the interest of both children and adults.
"To different people I'm a different store. For some I'm a Playmobil store, for some I'm a bookstore, for some I'm a nesting doll store," said Jeanne Dostal, store owner. "I guess it makes it interesting because there is no one thing, it's sort of a balance. That's why we called it a curiosity shop."
During her 32 years owning the business, Dostal has learned how many patrons make visiting the store a part of their Christmas experience in the area.
Although the store is closing its doors for good during the first week of January, Dostal is looking forward to her last Christmas in the shop and the magical feeling she said comes with the holiday season.
"I especially love Christmas in here because of the people and the stories they tell. They often have so many memories of a particular thing they bought here or why they bought it here. So every year people remind me," Dostal explained.
"This is a kind of store where you can pick things up and talk about things. It's not pre-packaged. Sometimes when people find us they are sorry they didn't find us sooner."
Customers from New York, Ohio and Canada, as well as those from Erie and the Route 6 corridor, are among some of the shop's regular clients.
In addition to carrying an array of Playmobil products, Dostal is also in touch with local artisans and craftsmen who have contributed various items to the store throughout the years.
John Pontzer's wooden railroad trains and dollhouses are featured items, along with Grace Schlimm's handmade figurines, including Benedictine nuns, senior citizen characters and Native American dolls, as well as a collection of miniature pieces such as fruits, vegetables and more. A Wilcox woman has also contributed to the store's large offerings of dollhouse furniture.
"When we can, local artists and craftsmen have helped us. Sometimes they come in for supplies and sometimes they build us things," Dostal said.
Upon entering the store, Dostal's impressive collection of Russian nesting dolls are displayed behind the counter. Each of the dolls are handmade in Russia and range from traditional styles to fairy-tale characters, art themes and specialty Christmas pieces.
Dostal explained how many of the dolls have accompanying storybooks relating to the specific doll.
"I often tell them the stories relating to the doll. The stories are delightful," she said.
Nativity scenes from countries including England, Mexico and Siberia are among those on display. Dostal is particularly fond of the Siberian Nativity, which is completely made of felt material.
In addition to Christmas items, collectors can find Jewish and Hebrew items for those celebrating Hanukkah.
Dostal also explained the process of crafting the Chinese mudmen figurines that can be viewed at her store. She said the small figurines, which are hand-sculpted from mud, are becoming very difficult to find. On some pieces, the sculptor's fingerprints can be seen embedded in the mud.
"It's a lost art. It's very time-consuming and detailed," she noted.
Dostal explained that such figurines are now becoming mass-produced, which takes away the authenticity and the charm of the piece.
The international flair is also evident in the displays, which include an Oriental dollhouse and figurines; English porcelain hats, shoes and boxes designed by Jane Asher; Native American figurines produced in Italy; and Russian ornaments, including hand-painted eggs, dancers and hand-carved Santas.
Other collectible pieces available in the shop include Department 56 villages, figurines and specialty pieces such as the houses from "Great Expectations" and "Little Women," and a small collection of porcelain dolls. Among many of her vintage items are paper doll books by Dover featuring subjects such as Jacqueline Kennedy, the Pope, Queen Elizabeth as a young girl, George Bush, famous American women and brides from around the world.
"We handle a lot of beautiful books: Christmas books and children's books, cookbooks, books on parenting, fairy tales, Advent calendars, posters, American Girl books and small dolls. It's hard to find a bookstore around here, so some people just come in to buys books," Dostal said, referring to one customer who purchases a few hundred dollars worth of books each Christmas.
For more on thos story, see the Dec. 21st edition of The Daily Press.

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