Living the Steampunk dream in Surry

By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: May 19, 2019 | 3:15 p.m.

SURRY – So what do a jewelry maker and a 25 year firefighter/paramedic do when they decide to start a business together?  Well, in the case of Surry locals Paige Devletian and James “J.P.” Perry, Jr, it’s A Steampunked Life!  

“It’s kind of a funny story,” Paige said, when asked why they chose that name for their gifts, novelties, and specialty items store in downtown Surry.

“We were selling our jewelry and knives and tactical gear together almost every week-end at various shows.  J.P. had inherited over 500 watches from his father, a watch and clock repairman. One day he sat down and took apart about 75 watches.  I was already selling pocket watches I created one of a kind covers for.  So I started taking the watch parts and incorporating them in my jewelry.  Someone came by the table and said, ‘That looks very steampunk’ and I’m, ‘What’s that?’ They explained, it sounded pretty good, so we decided to do a small table with friends at a convention.  We made up some steampunk-type props for the table – goggles, hats, etc. – just to accentuate the table. Everybody wanted to buy the props!  We just made up prices on the spot and those sold right away!  So he sold his tactical gear and knife business, I sold my jewelry business, and we’ve been doing this together ever since!”

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“This” is a business so unique that Paige said there’s not another quite like it anywhere on the East Coast.

“Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that proposes the time advanced run by steam power – like H.G. Wells meets Jules Verne,” Paige explained. “It’s worldwide. Some people play it and some actually live it, dressing like taking a step back in time to Victorian England. There’s even a whole Steampunk town in New Zealand.”

“It’s been written about for many years, but the term was coined in the 70s,”  she continued. “Some people call it retro-futuristic. Think movies like The Wild, Wild West or League of Extraordinary Gentleman. There’s a whole Steampunk subculture out there – groups that play or even live the life to an extent.  It’s big on the west coast. Richmond has a steampunk group.  Tidewater has several.  And there are conventions all over, but stores like ours? Those are few and far between.  At any given time, our table is between 20-50 percent handmade for or by us.  There’s a store with hats and some other accessories purchased for resale in Richmond, and we found one in St. Augustine Florida, plus we’ve heard that there’s another one like that, maybe, in Norfolk.  And there’s a nautical one on the Outerbanks.  But the next one like ours, that is, a store with a makers’ space, with artists on premises, that also supports local artists with the same type of art? Well, we’ve found only one on this side of the country, and that’s in Cincinnatti, OH. There are shops that sell the apparel, but they’re purchased for resale, not made by the proprietors and local artisans.  

Asked why they opened the shop on Colonial Trail East in Surry, she said, “Because making all the things for shows was taking over our house! He works full time as a firefighter/paramedic, but this is my full-time job – making things to sell and arranging all the shows and things we do. Last year, we did 32 shows at sci fi, steam punk, literary, anime, and comic book conventions. It had taken over 5 rooms of our house to store all the stuff to be ready for shows and build more stuff. So when this place came up at a reasonable price, we moved all that stuff here and all of a sudden we had a workroom for him, one for me, and rooms to store all the stuff we were making to sell at shows.  Then we decided, ‘Hey! We’re going to be here anyway, working, so we might as well open a store!’”

As for their philosophy, she said, “We never say no. We make a lot of personalized items – even things like superhero armor – right on the premises. We always say yes – then we figure out how to do it!  Gives us something new and different to do.  Keeps it new and exciting.” 

The two are very active in community events, and even hold special events around the holidays at A Steampunked Life as well, and while she said they do enjoy dressing up for those, they generally dress “like anybody else.”

“We’re open seven days a week,” Paige added.  “I come in ready to make things, because my favorite part is the creativity. I love being able to make whatever I want and having that creative outlet I think so any people want but don’t have time for. I just wish more local people would come in. Most of our people come as a destination or they come off the Ferry and run across us. I think local people would be surprised at some of the things we carry.”


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