After nearly two decades of ownership by Debra Wells, Instant Karma, a 60s, hippie culture-inspired accessories shop on Lexington Avenue, is undergoing a transformation. New proprietor Doug Landgraf purchased the retail store several months ago and has been managing operations and reorganizing the space ever since.
BETTER GET YOURSELF TOGETHER
“Our big goal is to make this a little more shoppable,” says Landgraf, explaining that improving the store’s product displays was his top priority. His changes have already resulted in significantly faster turnover of the tapestry, sticker and poster inventories — a good indication that Landgraf is on the right track to pleasing customers.
Not only does the owner aim to “display more items in less space,” but he wants to add more locally made goods to the lineup and clearly convey each product’s Asheville heritage through in-store signage. This, he says, helps local crafters instantly connect to customers who wouldn’t otherwise recognize a product’s back story.
Landgraf, who has more than 20 years of retail experience, is also planning a secondary renovation for the new year in which he’ll free up 200 square feet of space that is currently used for stocking inventory. The reclaimed area will be the domain of local glassblower Ethan Murray, who envisions Instant Karma as a hub for both dedicated glass collectors and casual pipe-seekers.
IT’S UP TO YOU
“I am going to expand the glass selection and the pipe categories,” says Murray, whose work currently occupies just one of the store’s glass cases. Landgraf approached Murray with a proposition to take over Instant Karma’s glass section, citing the artist’s expertise and involvement with the glass-blowing community as major attributes.
Within three months, all of the glass at Instant Karma will be Asheville-made, and more of it will be branded to reflect local culture. The long-time designer also aims to add art pieces like mosaics, pendants, marbles and jewelry to the mix, and hopes to display more high-end works even if they sell infrequently.
Murray, a local celebrity among glass enthusiasts, is excited to have Instant Karma as an artistic platform for personal reasons too.
“I pulled up on Lexington Avenue, I got out of my car and I walked into Instant Karma,” says Murray, recalling his first ever sale in Asheville. “Debra, the previous owner, bought everything in my cases. That was in 1998.” From Murray’s viewpoint, Wells was a guiding force during Lexington Avenue’s early development, and she acted as a “mother figure,” often purchasing local art that she “didn’t necessarily need.”
“For me to be in control of part of Instant Karma, I feel like I am guiding an institution of the Asheville subculture,” says Murray, adding that the Western North Carolina pipe-making industry is under-recognized as a impactful economic force. According to the glass-specialist, some 200 local glassblowers generate millions of dollars of revenue per year by distributing high quality products across the globe.
“We are one of the largest pipe making communities in the country,” says Murray, “We sell glass from New York to Miami to Colorado, and then our distribution group Mountain Glass Arts … sell[s] glass to everybody all over the world.”
Murray observes the pipe industry’s increasing legitimacy, commenting, “It’s time for us to come out and let Asheville know that we’re a big part of this community, and we’re a big part of the direction this community’s going.” Although many glass artists have already moved from garages to art studios, Murray hopes to see even larger commercial facilities that are OSHA-compliant come into use within the next few years.
WE ALL SHINE ON
“Every mortgage paid by a pipe maker in Asheville is a feather in my hat, because we’ve created a real American grassroots industry in this city,” he says. But for now, Murray plans to spend several days per week in his own studio and weekends interacting with customers at the shop.
Landgraf, although excited about revamping Instant Karma, is mindful of the store’s long-time heritage as a downtown icon. “Instant Karma has been an institution, and we don’t want to change the institution part of it,” he says. “We’re just trying to put our own stamp on it.”