by Paige Beyer
In terms of fashion trends, Gambier cannot be compared to the streets of New York or Los Angeles. But Barn Owl owners, Chris Harman and Sarah Pillow of Gambier, are helping give Kenyon students their fashion fix.
Four years ago, Pillow and Harman founded The Barn Owl, which collects and sells antiques, clothing and novelties. The Barn Owl sells antiques on Middle Path in the fall and spring, as well as on eBay, and in a booth in Berlin, Ohio, an hour’s drive from Gambier. Pillow said their collecting began as a creative hobby as well as an attempt to make a little cash.
Pillow and Harman travel throughout Ohio looking for things to sell. They thrift, connect with friends who are throwing things out and attend antique auctions to collect most of the clothes and goods they sell. When they come across clothing or other especially eccentric items they think fit Kenyon students’ taste, the couple put them into the “Middle Path” pile. “We get really excited in the summer when we’re out shopping and we’re like, ‘This is perfect for Middle Path,’” Pillow said. “We have a whole ‘Middle Path’ area in our basement.” Clothing is the most popular item among Kenyon students and Pillow and Harman offer a different shopping opportunity, supplying Gambier with its own version of a thrift store.
Harman sees The Barn Owl filling a void in Gambier’s limited shopping opportunities, especially with students coming from around the country where “there’s a lot more shopping opportunity, whether it’s food or clothing or entertainment,” Harman said, “so we’re filling a need and entertaining ourselves.”
Part of the entertainment for students shopping at The Barn Owl is sifting through the items, many of which carry their own sense of history. “They bring a lot of culture into the small bubble that is Kenyon,” Hallie Schulwolf ’17 said. “I look forward to going to see the new merchandise they have each week.” Pillow and Harman have collected these historical pieces at estate sales, including one in Mount Vernon that netted the couple a number of vintage dresses from the 1950s.
The couple is also connected to Gambier in other ways, including as adamant listeners of WKCO. Harman and Pillow also run a donation program that benefits local charities like the Wiggin Street Garden, United Way and the Knox County Humane Society. They set out a jar for each organization at their booth, open to donations from students.
Harman pointed out that most of the money collected is from student donations that are separate from purchases.
In a sense, The Barn Owl is both a cultural and historical venture and some pieces can be up to 100 years old. The couple is more often than not saving them from auction trash bins. “It’s reckless for people not to understand that you really can get something that’s useful instead of throwing it away,” Harman said. “It has all the potential, if well-maintained, to make the next person happy.”
The Barn Owl sells on Middle Path in front of the Village Inn Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.