Oddly fascinating and amusing
The Ocala Oddities Market brings the macabre and mischievous to downtown each month and at a new shop a few blocks north.
The spooky, the mysterious and the hilarious converge at the Ocala Oddities Market at the Ocala Downtown Market awning and space.
Matt Gray, the bizarre bazaar’s founder and organizer, shared that around 2,500 people bought Oddities’ weird and wild goods at July’s market.
Each month on the third Friday, from 6 to 10 p.m. (or thereabouts), vendors come from across the state set up. The monthly gathering adds a playfully dark twist to the local cultural scene. It attracts so many sellers that many are put on a waitlist. Food trucks and live music are featured and, each month, a different artist designs the market’s official T-shirt. August’s artist will be Vito Giammanco.
Before founding his market, Gray became known around town as a DJ and emcee, entertaining crowds at special events and weddings. He started his career as a teenager, spinning tunes at the Skate Mania roller rink.
But he had some unique interests, too.
“In my earliest, fondest memories from when I was a child, when I was 8, 10 years old, I would go down to the Kmart and pick out my Halloween costume,” Gray recalled. “My interest and love of Halloween as a child grew into discovering monster movies in my teens, and then classic horror films.”
Last year on Halloween, when Gray organized his first big shopping and entertainment marketplace, he wondered why he couldn’t re-create that sensation beyond the season.
“I wanted to create an outlet where you could find that kind of cool, spooky macabre item, gothic horror, what have you, year-round, so you didn’t have to wait till October to get that cool Frankenstein piece for your house or a taxidermy butterfly or what have you.”
If you go to the next market, on Aug. 18, stop by the event’s main table and wish Gray a belated Happy Birthday. He turns 39 on Aug. 16. His wife, Stephanie, sells Ocala Oddities Market shirts and merch at the market. They have three daughters: Isabella, 18; Scarlet, 9; and Violet, 2. Gray said he has already scheduled his 2024 markets, and next year’s August Oddities falls on his 40th birthday, which should be a bigger-than-usual celebration.
Another milestone took place in June, when Gray opened the Ocala Oddities Shoppe at 1525 NE 8th Ave., which he runs with his daughter Isabella, the shop’s manager.
At last month’s Oddities market, the crowd was amazingly diverse. Kids browsed figurines inspired by fantasy novels, “Star Wars” and Marvel Comics characters and even held a live snake or two. Pet-friendly vendors provided treats and water to visiting pups.
Local singer, KennaDee, wore a black Death tarot T-shirt and choker, and rocked 1980s-’90s alternative tunes such as “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes.
Adults, college-age through seniors, enjoyed the variety of goods for sale, from gourmet goodies to stuffed animals (both the dead, real kind as well as fluffy toys) to homemade personal and beauty products to hand-crafted decor to predatory plants, crystals, and even curio shelves shaped like coffins.
Warning: If you have arachnophobia, steer clear of Wittle Wide Webs, but if you love spiders, it’s a fun place to experience live spiders and the owner will even let you take one out and let it walk on your arm.
If you’re shopping for that je ne sais quoi, perhaps, or wondering what would the ghost of your great-grandmother wear, her favorite brooch might appear at Steamy Antiquities, one of the longest-running vendors at the Oddities Market in Ocala. The eclectic vendor combines relics and antiques with the presentation and functionality of contemporary jewelry, decor and accessories.
Vendors vary from month to month, but Gray has a faithful menagerie of regulars.
One favorite, MorgueMade, highlights the amazing decorative taxidermy creations of Allison Doty. Who knew the creepy could be so artfully beautiful?
Childlike innocence converges with the macabre in Lisa Detournay’s eerily beautiful art. Megan Sparkman, owner of The Witching Hour, also sells some darkly gorgeous art and handmade jewelry. Aleigha Lacy creates cartoonish critters with dark twists on collectible stickers, skateboard decks and more.
The market attracts people of all ages. Gray schedules the market on a Friday late-afternoon/evenings instead of weekend days, which feels much less oppressively hot in the summer.
The market lures around 2,000, sometimes more, people from across the state. As you stroll the aisles, a friendly atmosphere contrasts with the dark and sinister themes celebrated ironically, with humor and with sincere fascination by vendors.
The Siren and the Sinner shop sells signs and wood carvings with dark humor, and some are just, well, nice. One mini chalkboard commands us to “Manifest That Sh**” and on another, a bone-shaped carving for dog lovers says, “Home Is Where the Heart Is.”
For many of the market’s entrepreneurs, the Oddities bazaar provides a creative outlet and income inspired by a hobby.
Ryan Congleton, who carves crazy creatures, Marvel characters and movie icons through his RDC Woodwork shop, sells real estate. He said he appreciated Gray’s management of the event, and how well-promoted and supported the vendors are at the market.
Peyton Piestrup, a 45-year-old soap maker, developed his “Big Guy Soaps” brand, and sells soaps at the market. He lists the ingredients on each bar, which are all-natural. According to our shower test, they are as magnificent as their maker’s long beard.
“I really love selling my soaps at the market. It’s a great venue in a great location. I have a lot of fun listening to the entertainment, and I always meet amazing people. It’s a great way to support small local businesses,” Piestrup said.
Talking to customers at various booths, most consider the Ocala Oddities Market an oasis for misfits, something different, more interesting, something fun and unfettered for creative merchants and their likeminded customers to let their imagination go wild.
“Oh my gosh! It’s like a whole mall created for people like me!” exclaimed customer Jay Smart. “I don’t have to think about what I’d like to buy ahead of time because there’s so much to choose from, and I can wear whatever I want to wear because people like me will be here.”