Keeping Curiosity Alive

by | Jan 13, 2017

Curiosity is eternal. That’s the tagline for the uptown Phoenix boutique, Curious Nature. It’s an idea, embodied in the items for sale on the walls, shelves, and cabinets of this niche store. A puffer fish with googly eyes greets visitors as they walk in. To the left, is a cabinet embalmed with jarred creatures, known at “wet specimens.” To the right is a full taxidermy deer (affectionately named Jen). Past the skulls and bones of bears and alligator, sits a glass case filled with fossils.

“We get some people in that think that it’s kind of a freak show,” said owner Mason Conway, “and that’s not really our goal. We have really tried to display things in a way that seems beautiful but educational as well, because we don’t see this stuff as disgusting or gross. People ask what kind of store it is. We’ll say, ‘we’re a natural history store.’ It’s about the beauty of science and nature.”

Conway’s focus on the educational value of his store is more than a sales strategy, it’s a principle that began years ago as a teacher at a for-profit university. The difficulty of working in professional education, however, took a toll on Mason that his partner noticed.

“[Teachers] have to spend their day, whether they want to or not, controlling other people’s behavior and that’s stressful,” says Conway’s life-partner David “Bully” Bjorn. “And then you bring it home, whether you want to or not, and you become a teacher at home and that’s no fun.”

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“So, that’s a really nice way to say that I was kind of a miserable monster at home,” says Conway.

After the university went bankrupt, Bjorn encouraged Mason to move away from professional teaching and instead open Curious Nature.

“Honestly at the time I thought anything would be better,” said Bjorn.

With Bjorn, a business consultant by trade, helping him along the way, Conway used his retirement savings to open the store, which has been open for almost 3 years.

“With every customer that comes in, we can teach them something new about a scientific process or where an animal is from or what it eats or what it’s native to or why it’s special or why we have it,” says Conway. “We have the opportunity that we can teach them something cool about the world that they don’t know.”