words and photos by Derek Kreider
What was once the River of Life Assembly of God has been rechristened Oddmall Outpost: Assembly of Odd, the storefront for the nationally notorious Oddmall craft shows.
Oddmall’s modus operandi is to showcase artists and crafters who might not fit in at traditional shows. Open Wednesday through Sunday, the graveyard-adjacent curio shop that occupies the former church at 772 E. Turkeyfoot Lake Rd. is filled to bursting with strange and unique arts and crafts from artisans from home and abroad: jewelry made with butterfly wings, painted deer skulls and eight-foot-tall goblins; movie props, clothing and campaign books for tabletop games.
The Oddmall Outpost website lists even more categories including bath stuff and cosmetics, household items like wax melts and candles, and stationery.
Some of the merchandise in the shop comes from as far away as Seattle. The majority of it was contributed by artists who have worked an Oddmall craft show over the years. The Assembly of Odd divides the profits with the artists in a 60/40 split in the artist’s favor.
Upstairs is the consignment shop for artists who sell their work at the store. The downstairs serves as a communal gathering place complete with a kitchenette, a board game library, game rooms and ping-pong tables.
The outside of the building reveals few clues as to what lies behind the doors. From the road, a keen eye can pick out sparse traces indicating that this steepled structure used to house a congregation of a different sort. The most obvious indication is the sign on the front of the building: Where it once read “Assembly of God,” it now reads “Assembly of Odd,” an alteration that has drawn some complaints.
What hasn’t received any complaints, possibly due to its diminutive stature, is the dinosaur that sits on the tower, watching over traffic. While you might see the sign from the road, you’ll need to park the car to spot the dinosaur. And since you’re already parked you might as well go in — where it becomes easy to see what makes this a monument to the out-of-the-ordinary impulses of the creative set.
Mounting the concrete steps in front and throwing open the large double doors reveals a staircase leading up into what was once the nave, the area where parishioners worshiped. At the top of the stairs, dead center in the field of vision, a strange tableau is there to meet you.
At first it’s difficult to interpret what you’re seeing. It’s an unexpected splash of color — purple, green, pink and white swirl together unintelligibly until your mind adjusts to the frank, unabashed strangeness. A purple monster sits on top of a toilet, book in hand, with dead, mad eyes staring at the ceiling, trying to discern the will of something unseen to mortals.
The monster and its throne are perched inside a plastic green turtle that stares dumbly, water continuously pouring from its mouth. Its stagnant eyes betray the sisyphean tedium inherent in doing nothing but spitting water all day. A white picket fence partially encloses the installment, lending an unreal air of middle-class suburban domesticity. A sign hangs on the fence warning people to stay out of the enclosure.
The man who brought this scene to life can be found among the shelves, keeping vigilant watch over his strange flock. That man is Andy Hopp, the mad scientist responsible for the Oddmall craft shows as well as the Con on the Cob, a tabletop gaming convention billed as a “Four day celebration of games, art, freaks, and fun” happening in Richfield from Oct. 3-6. Andy is also the purveyor of his own publishing company, Mutha Oith Creations, through which he produces the Low Life roleplaying game, card games and childrens books.
An Oddmall storefront wasn’t exactly part of the plan. It was born out of necessity.
“We were running everything out of my basement. It was me, two helpers, and we just filled up my house,” Andy says.
Once the basement filled up, the sheds in the back of the house and the garage followed. It was then that Andy and his wife agreed that they were going to need warehouse and office space if they were to keep the operation up and running without running themselves out of their home.
“Heather, my wife, actually came up with the idea to open a store. If the store could pay for itself, then it would be like we got free office space and warehouse space,” Andy says.
They haven’t been able to make much of a profit yet, but Andy hopes installing a more accurate sign will draw people in: “Right now all you see is ‘Assembly of Odd.’ You can’t really tell what’s in here. So a lot of people think it’s like the Odd Fellows or one of those fraternities for old men,” he says.
As well as maintaining a consignment shop for bizarre and wonderful crafts, Andy hopes to mold the shop into a gathering place for his patrons.
“I want to create, like, a community. A place where people can come, for free, and play games and work on art projects and write their screenplay or whatever they’re working on and just hang out here and have a good time,” he says.
Most of all, Andy says he wants people to feel welcome.
“Whether they buy something or not, I want them to share their creativity and enjoy the fact that other people share their creativity with them,” Andy says. “And that no matter who you are or where you come from, you’re welcome here, and there’s probably something here that will interest you. And if not, that’s okay too. Coming in and having a chat is free.”
Derek Kreider is a freelance writer and sort-of musician hailing from parts unknown.
Oddmall: Hallowondorous Edition will be held Oct. 19-20 at the Lakewood Masonic Temple located at 15300 Detroit Ave.