A fall chill hung in the air on a bright and busy Saturday as I walked up to the colorful façade of Hooked on Cary Street. The exterior mural, painted by local artist Mickael Broth, features a playful composition of dripping neon blobs, almost like an oversized gum wall. Inside, a variety of eclectic items—vintage clothing, video games, rows of manual cameras, niche grooming products—are stacked on crates and line the store’s hardwood shelves. A Motown record played in the background as I was greeted by the floppy face of a bulldog puppy panting quietly next to the register. Lauren Skinner, who co-owns Hooked along with her husband Mike, warned me not to be fooled, “Padme is kind of a psycho,” she said of her pup wryly. “That’s why we have her chained up.”
Lauren and Mike have owned and operated the original Hooked location in Fredericksburg for about four years, but this was the grand opening of their new Richmond location in the heart of Carytown. “Fredericksburg was a great town to start in,” Lauren told me, “but not the location where the brand is really going to grow, expand, and blossom.” The couple sees Carytown as a place where Hooked will fit into the already well-defined landscape of high-end shops juxtaposed by thrifty vintage stores. “I’m excited to be a part of a community like this,” Lauren said as she smiled and heartily welcomed customers into the shop between lulls in our conversation.
Lauren and Mike describe Hooked as a lifestyle shop. They sell curated items, both new and vintage, in five main categories: music, photography, video games, clothing, and grooming. Lauren called the vibe of the store “Urban Outfitters, but homespun,” but their hipster-meets-gamer aesthetic is more personalized than that characterization might indicate. The success of their store, and their brand, has everything to do with the personal—and personable—touch that the couple brings to their work. “Mike’s parents have been in this type of business their whole lives,” Lauren said. “His mom owned three different antique malls and has taken him shopping with her since day one.” Grinning bemusedly, she added, “He’s like a magnet for amazing things. I don’t know how he does it. It just comes to his fingertips, it’s mind blowing.”
With a knack for finding one-of-a-kind items to fit the shop’s aesthetic, Lauren and Mike seem to have found their niche as small business owners. “I love that I have a creative outlet,” Lauren intimated, “I was an art major in school. But now I don’t paint, I lay stores out.” Mike, too, is able to express himself through the gems he finds for the store. As Lauren explained to me, “For Mike, getting to work with things he loves like comics, videogames, and music—and being able to talk to people that are into the same thing—is important.” Connecting with customers is key to the couple’s success: “A gentleman came into the store the other day,” Lauren illustrated, “and they just jammed on records for like two hours.”
The familiar, almost familial, personal relationships that Lauren and Mike have forged with their customers over the years in Fredericksburg has made the expansion to Carytown slightly bittersweet. “In Fredericksburg, I love knowing that every Wednesday night, Sarah’s coming in and she loves vintage and she loves floral, so I’m going to have so many things for her,” Lauren told me. “It’s a little sad moving, but we’re happy to start fresh.” The upside is that they get to meet a new, potentially wider customer base in Richmond. Lauren joked, “Even at Kroger, everyone is our customer. I mean,” she mimed pulling wares from beneath an imaginary trench coat, “I wish I had comic books in my shirt to sell to you guys!”
With the expansion of Hooked, the couple hope to parlay their brick-and-mortar business into a more expansive brand. “We’re dreamers,” Lauren explained to me in her signature wide-eyed, animated tone, “and I think you have to be a dreamer in order to open a business.” Lauren and Mike’s goal, after solidifying their presence in both Fredericksburg and Richmond, is to focus on building their web presence. “Online business is everything,” Lauren insisted, “and nobody knows what the future holds, but we have it in our minds that we will build this brand as far as it will possibly take us.”
Towards the end of our conversation, I asked Lauren how she and Mike first met and began their foray into business co-ownership. She said that they met when Mike was building out the first iteration of Hooked in Fredericksburg where she was a barista at a nearby café. “I had a crush on him for like two years,” she told me. Finally, Mike asked her on a date. After that auspicious encounter, Lauren and Mike were married a mere thirty days later. Obviously, the two are big believers in that undeniable gut-twinge of intuition, the instinctual attraction you can feel from that perfect pair of high-waisted vintage jeans, to the greatest love of your life. Smiling, she explained, “It’s kind of like, when you know, you know.”
The Richmond location of Hooked hosted its grand opening on October 15. Visit the store at 3027 W. Cary Street or follow them online at facebook.com/becomehooked.
Photography by Brian Brown