When customers first step inside Alexandria Zarillo’s shop, most gaze in disbelief at the array of items that, at first, seem to signify death. But, the downtown Blue Springs owner of Alkeme’ Oddities and Curiosities instead offers a life-giving description to the hundreds of items in her collection. She treats customers to a museum-style explanation of her macabre collection, offering a new view.

“They come in thinking one thing,” she said, “and leave with another – It’s more than just a couple of skulls hung haphazardly,” she said, describing the spiritually based meaning she attaches to each piece. She also infuses a nature-based philosophy for artifacts that includes not wasting anything, much like that of Native Americans. She's a proponent of the humane treatment of animals, and all items in her store were ethically sourced.

Zarillo, who lives only a few blocks from her store at 1003 W. Main St., said she “finds the beauty in things that no longer have life” and sees her collection as a shrine to the life forms they represent. She breathes new life into pieces that most people would discard. More than 500 items are featured in her 700-square-foot shop. They range from framed artwork featuring, for instance, a taxidermically prepared bat to skulls of dogs and cattle that adorn the tops of small antique wooden furniture. Rabbits and pigs that were stillborn float in glass jars of formaldehyde. She hand-crafts jewelry fashioned mainly from metalworks, incorporating previous life forms, including a hermit crab shell plated in copper. One recent day she gave a tour of her shop while wearing one of her brother’s wisdom teeth displayed in a glass-domed necklace. But, Zarillo explained that Alkeme’ is “not all goth and dark. There’s a lot of light in here,” she said of her quest to demonstrate what she calls “the cycle of life.”

Zarillo, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, but also lived in Higginsville, moved to Blue Springs in 2013 so her daughter could attend public school here. She describes herself as an environmentalist, whose passion for unusual items grew from an early interest in creating metal jewelry. She used a natural interest in science as a springboard to metallurgy and alchemy, the science of perfecting objects using spirituality and meaningful imagery.

Zarillo opened her shop nearly a year ago and, as with every event in her life, saw the “for-lease” sign on the property and assigned it meaning. “I took that as sign” she said, although she’d never before considered opening a store. “When I walked in the first time, I had a vision,” she said. “I have a natural ability to see things for what they can be,” she said. “That’s just the way my brain works. This place was easy to decorate because I knew what it was going to look like before I ever placed an item.” Zarillo said her philosophy for decorating mirrors her mindset when creating jewelry or other items for her inventory. “

She admits that her shop is a new concept for downtown Blue Springs, but, believes the success of her business signals a shift in the mentality of the business district. “In a bigger town, you’d see this kind of thing and no one would bat an eye,” she said. The shift was “already in the process and I just came at the right place and the right time.”

The shop’s Facebook page has more than 550 followers and includes a review from Raven Black, who described the store as “absolutely amazing… like Halloween year-round she has almost everything you could imagine… great things for modeling or for just a night on the town and décor for your house, especially if you’re somebody like me and love creepy things.”

Zarillo considers herself an artist and is pleased with the foot traffic, prompted by social media (the shop’s Facebook page) and word-of-mouth. She addresses the question about financial viability by stating that profit is not her goal, listing, instead, the ability to share her art with others. “The most important part is the relationships and friends I’ve made along the way,” she said, adding that the store attracts visitors from all corners of the metro. Many are return customers. Artifacts appeal to people from many different sectors, including hunters who appreciate the bones and antlers and environmentalists to whom the idea of preserving nature appeals. In addition to her own handmade jewelry, she also features products from about six vendors, all metropolitan area artists and others.

“People are curious and want to know exactly what this place is…” she said about what first attracts many, who become regular shoppers and eventually become suppliers. She said, “Once they get over the hump of me being this odd girl with a shop, they start bringing me things.”

Pam Buck, who soon will begin as executive director of Downtown Alive, a program designed to grow downtown Blue Springs, offered her appraisal of the store. She said, it’s “a fun place to go for its shock value. It’s all in good fun.”