Rice Village's Variety Fair To Shutter After Six-Plus Decades

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After 61 years on Rice Boulevard, the Village's Variety Fair 5 and 10 is closing. Co-owner Cathy Irby tells Hair Balls that she hopes the store will be empty by June 30, when their current lease runs out.

"This is something that we've been on the fence with for many years, but it's come down to the point where I have run out of money to put into it," Irby says. "Financials made this decision for me. But we gave it a good run for 61 years!"

Indeed they did. The "Five and Dime" harks back to another era for the Village, when locals shopped there as much for practicalities like groceries, basic haircuts and hardware as they did for frippery like French pastries, expensive bar-hopping and haute couture. In those days, Variety Fair was one of the less utilitarian, more fun shops in the Village. It was always the one-stop for fun -- party decorations and invites, toys, knick-knacks and so on.

It survived lean times. It's hard to believe now, but back in the depths of the Oil Bust, parts of the Village were downright seedy. The old Village Theater screened porn for a time shortly before its demise, and the reggae club Caribana offered cheap, huge rum cocktails along with a free ganja contact high to all who entered.

All that was gone by the early `90s, and despite the recent global recession and its most obvious manifestation in the area -- that giant vacant lot on Bolsover that was supposed to have been a fancy-schmancy new Randall Davis development by now -- it's still fat city in the Village, and dowdy, comforting old Variety Fair now seems like a quirky relic in the precinct it helped first put on the map and then anchor for so long.

"The Village has changed a lot," she says. "It's more trendy and it's more about nightlife than it is during the day, a good hang-out for bars and restaurants. As much as people love coming in here, over the last ten years, we've seen a decline in both the number of people coming in but also a decline in our sales. My husband will tell you, there was a reason why Woolworth's went out."

Nowadays, West 19th Street in the Heights feels more like yesterday's Village than the Village of today does. Perhaps the Five and Dime could move there, we proposed. Citing the prohibitive cost of a relocation, Irby says she has no plans to reopen there or anywhere else.

Irby says that the store has been operating through the last ten years in part on a cash subsidy left to her by her parents. "That money is now all gone," she says. "I've done with it what it would have wanted to have done with it, which is to keep it going."

(To read more about the history of the store, click here .)

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