Jackalope and the story of Charles “Darby” McQuade, entrepreneur extraordinaire
Darby, a self-made entrepreneur, grew up one of fifteen children in Richwood, West Virginia. A natural salesman,
it could be that McQuade inherited his ambition and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality from his coal-mining father, who worked his way up to become the president of the company. Or he could have gotten his drive from his mother, who ran for U.S. Congress twice—as if raising fifteen children wasn’t enough. (Though never elected, she’s responsible for establishing Grandparents’ Day as a national holiday.) And with 14 brothers and sisters, it might have been that McQuade had to learn self-reliance and survival skills from an early age. When he was three years old, his next-door neighbors, Brooks and Maggie Taylor, took McQuade in when his parents went on vacation. “I didn’t want to go back,” McQuade remembers. “It’s hard to get attention with 14 brothers and sisters.” The impact of that early experience cannot be overestimated. “That kind of saved my life,” says McQuade, who split his time between the two households for the next 30 years.
“I always had cash,” says McQuade, who started selling cucumbers out of his red wagon when he was five and later expanded his inventory to include fishing worms. “I was the kid who was always out hustling.” While the local competition sold a dozen worms for a quarter, McQuade sold them for a quarter by the handful—as much as you could grab. Besides staying competitive, the subtle price differential shows that McQuade understood early on that it’s not just the product—or even the quantity—but the tangible, sensory experience of the purchase that makes the sale. McQuade recalls, “I was more into technique than I was a salesperson. I never was pushy.”
McQuade moved to Manhattan after earning his Master’s in Business at West Virginia University, but soon found that the world of high finance wasn’t for him and the suit and tie were too restrictive. “I really was sort of a square peg in a round hole. A friend that I worked with bought a motorcycle, and he was from Colorado. And so I bought one, too. I needed boots, and so I bought a pair of sort of cowboy boots at the motorcycle shop,” McQuade comments. “I’m in Manhattan waiting on First Avenue for an uptown bus to my apartment, holding a box with a pair of cowboy boots. I just started looking around, and began grinning inside; and I thought,
He left Manhattan to tour Europe by motorcycle, returning to San Francisco in 1968. A seemingly unfortunate turn of events led McQuade to El Paso, Texas, where he began making and selling candles at a small airport mall. The business evolved to include importing pottery from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. In 1976 he sold the business, and moved to Santa Fe.
Darby “set up shop” in the back of his truck near the historic Santa Fe Plaza, selling pottery and merchandise he brought in from Mexico. But his dreams were bigger than that. He was called to create a village, much like ones he had grown to love on his travels into Mexico. At this village, visitors could experience shopping as entertainment, and products would be almost accidentally discovered. The retail village he set out to create was named Jackalope; it was the beginning of a retail phenomena that still captures the heart of his customers.
The magic of the store
In Santa Fe, Jackalope is a home and garden shopping destination that is considered one of the top-five attractions visited by the more than 900,000 tourists to Santa Fe each year. Founded in 1976 by Darby McQuade as a way to share his travels to Mexico and around the world, the store carries beautiful and unique items from Mexico, India, Thailand, Bali, Africa, China, and Egypt.
Jackalope features international folk art, Christmas ornaments, pottery, handmade furniture, and rugs. The main store boasts several acres of New Mexico sun-drenched excitement including wildlife in the trees, a prairie-dog village, an animal barn, a plant nursery, a furniture store, a Mercado, and a café.
Customers are often drawn to McQuade’s on-premise home with 150 white pigeons roosting on the second-floor balcony. More than once he has run into unexpected visitors, drawn by the art and furniture that looks like an extension of Jackalope’s colorful inventory. He finds it amusing.
As McQuade roams Jackalope’s grounds talking with customers, it’s clear his personality suffuses the place. The quirky store, a mix of international bazaar and what McQuade calls “Pier 1 on steroids,” has earned it a loyal following in New Mexico and beyond.
Growth and expansion
More than just one store in Santa Fe, Jackalope has now grown to include two additional locations in North Hollywood (CA), and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Each locale sells pottery, furniture, local and imported folk art, rugs, garden décor, and more. Jackalope isn’t your average home-furnishing store. In fact Jackalope is often spotlighted on television as a furnishing and fixture destination for home improvement shows.
In a world of cookie-cutter, big-box chain stores, each Jackalope location has its own, distinctive personality. In a carnival meets old world market–atmosphere, Jackalope offers its customers an experience that cannot be felt at any other retail establishment. Shopping at any one of the Jackalope stores, with its eclectic array of merchandise for every budget, is a unique experience that’s not to be forgotten.
At Jackalope, shopping is a trip.
September 23rd, 2011MORE
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