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Wild Berry: fifty years on High Street

<p>For Wild Berry, the business model of making incense has made sense since 1971.</p>

For Wild Berry, the business model of making incense has made sense since 1971.

Upon entering Wild Berry, a local retail shop uptown, customers are overcome by the smell of incense and the store’s eclectic nature. Each wall is lined with different trinkets, gifts and accessories, and the store’s floors are crowded with racks of imported clothing and towers of incense. 

Wild Berry was founded by Miami University alum Mark Biales and opened in 1971. According to the gift store’s official website, it began by selling Biales’ handmade leather products, such as belts and sandals, before gradually acquiring other goods from around the world. 

In addition to leather products, Wild Berry has been making and selling incense since the shop first opened. Before opening the Wild Berry Incense Factory location out on College Corner Pike, employees dipped incense sticks in the back of the uptown storefront. 

Now, the factory ships sticks, wax melts and cones to dozens of countries around the world. Fragrance oils are also available and offer an alternative for students unable to burn incense in dorm rooms and on-campus housing. 

Although the store has been open for decades, general manager Kimberly Clarke says Wild Berry has always sold the same type of products and has successfully maintained their brand as a “hippie” shop throughout the past 50 years.

“We have perennial favorites,” Clarke said. “For decades, we’ve sold gags. For decades, we’ve sold pipes, and we’ve sold Indian import clothes … There are things that have been in here — not the same item but the same product line — for almost as long as there’s been The Wild Berry.”

Today, Wild Berry offers leather-bound journals, sage, gag gifts, socks, aprons, imported clothing, jewelry, kids toys, books, incense, pipes and a variety of other products.

“We have everything,” Clarke said. “We have little kids who come in and look at toys. We have older townies that have been coming here [since] the ’70s. We have college kids. It really is a store that appeals to everyone. We have some people that just come here because they love Jelly Bellies [and] that’s fine, too.”

First-year political science major Adeline Hatfield has shopped at Wild Berry several times since arriving on campus this fall. Hatfield describes the store’s environment as both welcoming and calming.

“It’s the vibe that keeps you coming,” Hatfield said. 

For Hatfield, the interaction between customers and sales associates creates a sense of community. Oftentimes, she goes to Wild Berry simply to interact with others or hangout with friends. 

“I don’t just go there with the intention of shopping,” Hatfield said. “I know I’ll probably talk to some of the people that are there … Sometimes, I talk to other [Miami] students because we obviously have some kind of common interest and we hit it off if we’re looking at the same thing. I would definitely say that captures the overall experience of going to Wild Berry, especially if you go there frequently.”

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Although Clarke believes Wild Berry caters to all, Hatfield says those who are casually interested in phenomena such as astrology and witchcraft are likely to be drawn to the store. 

“I feel like a lot of times, astrology is more about the vibe,” Hatfield said. “They have certain jewelry products that you could wear that have astrological symbols on it, [and] they have some articles of clothing and even decor.”

According to The New Yorker, a 2017 Pew Research Center poll revealed that almost 30% of Americans believe in astrology, which is likely due to the prevalence of social media and apps such as Co-Star that provide daily, weekly and monthly horoscopes to its users. Witchcraft practices, such as Wicca, have also been on the rise, and there has been an increase in the population of Pagans and Wiccans since 2014, according to The Atlantic

“I think with the rise of Co-Star, social media [and] astrology-type posts, it’s become a casual interest for a lot of people,” Hatfield said. “I would say that I probably fall under that category as well, which is why I think people are drawn to stores like Wild Berry. It’s very accessible.”

However, not all Wild Berry customers are interested in the occult. First-year psychology major Katie Craig has also shopped at Wild Berry several times. After visiting, Craig bought several posters to decorate her dorm room and found many of the store’s products appealing.

“I feel like there [is] something for everyone in there because it is a gift shop,” Craig said.

Although Craig doesn’t entirely believe in astrology or find interest in witchcraft and similar phenomena, products such as tarot cards and dreamcatchers still piqued her interest. 

“I think a lot of people are interested in astrology and witch[craft],” Craig said. “I would be interested in buying one of the witch books, not to practice, but because it’s interesting.” 

The variety of different products appeals to a wide range of customers, which has likely contributed to Wild Berry’s success over the past 50 years. Even though some products like gags don’t bring in a lot of revenue, Clarke believes that Wild Berry is responsible for bringing joy into the lives of many.

“We have things that we are known for and always have,” Clarke said. “Not necessarily because they sell better than anything else, but because it’s the thing that people think of when they come to Wild Berry ... People come to The Wild Berry because it makes them feel good when they come here.”