Little shop of wonders
Fictional characters stumbling upon back-alley stores ripe with treasures—this is the stuff of tales found in books such as the Harry Potter series. A real-life version of such experiences awaits East Sacramento explorers who visit Geographica. The shop, located off a J Street alley, is squeezed between stores hawking children’s clothing and bridal wear. Owner Mark Anderson grew up studying history and following the American space-flight program before living the adventurer’s life in Alaska for 25 years. One step inside Anderson’s eclectic store, which opened in December 2012, gives visitors an instant sense of history. With offerings such as an extensive collection of maps and globes (including a rare lunar one), an apricot-drying rack, a brass telescope and an antique French birdcage, each item comes with a story—something often missing in modern electronic gadgetry. Anderson, who also produces and mounts specialty maps, spoke to SN&R about headlocks, 40-year-old elk horns and what, exactly, is wrong with the world today.
Why did you open Geographica?
A few years ago, my wife and I read that there were no high-school students representing Sacramento at the state geography contest sponsored by National Geographic. We thought it was a shame that not more students knew about geography and history and felt this was one way to get people more interested. The store is full of the things I enjoy and think others would enjoy.
You have an interesting history with your wife that involves time and distance—two common themes in the store.
Geography is a huge thing in our relationship. When we were married for the first time in 1973, she lived in Idaho and Washington, D.C., while I was in Alaska. It was so difficult and expensive to really communicate by telephone. Sometimes, I couldn’t even get a line out. And travel between us could take days. Thirty years after our divorce, we remarried, even though by then she had moved to Sacramento, and I [had] transferred to Seattle. Although we had to deal with the same difficult distances, communication was so much easier with the help of the Internet and email. For the first couple of years, I commuted almost weekly.
If you could grab a high-school kid in a headlock and force him to learn something essential, what would it be?
Not that I would do such a thing, but I hope they would show a real interest in the world around them and learn to interact with people—really, anything that works to defuse the easy but harmful impression that they aren’t very bright or can’t pay attention.
What’s the weirdest merchandise you have?
That’s probably a toss-up between the 40-year-old elk horns and the 100-year-old toboggan. I’d hate to take a ride on either one.
Your sign in front of the store says “Art Science History Home.” What’s the “Home” part mean?
Our house is decorated with these kinds of objects, and we hope other people can see them as home décor as well. The top of our bookcase is decorated with a row of globes [like we have in the store]. The antique books here include many that I remember from my mother’s extensive library.
How has traveling shaped you?
I went to community college in Spokane, Washington, but didn’t enjoy it. I had a yen to get out and see the world. So I worked three part-time jobs to make enough money to attend a Mormon college in Hawaii. I learned more there in one year than in my last four just by being exposed to so many students and teachers from all over the Pacific Rim. My dad encouraged me to come to Alaska where there were plenty of jobs. Instead of drifting about, I “found” myself there.
What’s wrong with the world today?
All of history and all of man’s experiences can’t just be found on the Internet. You shouldn’t be limited by modern technology, even though it’s useful and fantastic. There’s deep insight in what you can actually hold in your hands.