In pursuit of pop culture: Longtime collector opens Castle St. oddities shop

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Eclectic collector Kenyatta Sullivan, seen here in Dino DeLaurentiis' custom-made robe from 'Dune,' opened Whatever...Wilmington on Castle Street to house his massive array of oddities and one-of-a-kind items. Photos by Hilary Snow.
Eclectic collector Kenyata Sullivan, seen here in Dino DeLaurentiis’ custom-made robe from ‘Dune,’ opened Whatever…Wilmington on Castle Street to house his massive array of oddities and one-of-a-kind items. Photos by Hilary Snow.

There’s good reason Kenyata Sullivan named his downtown eclectic collectible shop, “Whatever…Wilmington.”

Inside the wonderfully cluttered and colorful Castle Street store is a glimpse at the passion the Port City native has thrown behind his long-held pursuit of anything and everything pop culture.

After 18 years in the online game, selling comic books, vintage ads and an assortment of oddities, Sullivan opened his first brick and mortar business in late December on the bottom floor of the new mixed-use Urban Oasis building.

“I just wanted to build a store that never really existed, one that I would want to go in,” Sullivan said. “I wanted to take all the pop culture stuff I love and house it.”

Crammed as it is floor-to-ceiling with movie memorabilia and props, first-edition books, comics, posters, vintage toys, antique knick knacks, trading cards and animation cells, Whatever… is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Sullivan’s airport-area warehouse is overflowing with the same–and then some–the result of an obsession with kitsch and one-of-a-kind rarities.

That’s a good thing for shoppers, who can expect an ever-rotating selection of items that range from impulse buys to the stuff of serious collectors.

“I do want to have that balance, where people can come in and pick up a little something for a dollar or they can find something really high end,” Sullivan said.

A signed copy Song Hits Magazine sits alongside an assortment of vintage toys and decor in one corner of Sullivan's wonderfully cluttered business.
A signed copy Song Hits Magazine sits alongside an assortment of vintage toys and decor in one corner of Sullivan’s wonderfully cluttered business.

As anyone bitten by the thrill-of-the-hunt bug can understand, Sullivan’s obsession with the off-the-wall and unusual started innocently enough, as a way the musician – singer for former iconic local band Pandora’s Lunchbox  – could supplement his income while staying home to care for his grandmother after she had a stroke. Sullivan was also the creative force behind the late 90s W.E. Fest, which brought countless big-name acts to Wilmington while they were still just up-and-comers.

“I couldn’t tour any more…caring for someone who’s had a stroke is a full-time job. So, I had to figure out a way to work out of the house,” he recalled.

He discovered eBay while clearing out some items at his grandmother’s home and he became hooked.

Like any properly addicted vintage or collectible hound, what Sullivan really loves about the items he comes across is their history, their significance in place and time.

“I love people; I love stories,” he said.

And with that deep connection often comes an attachment to his finds, which can prove difficult when they sell.

Case in point: Sullivan parted ways with his copy of Marvel’s “Amazing Fantasy Vol. 1 #15,” which marked the first appearance of Spider-Man, for a whopping $6,000. Although it was quite a payday, he said he felt a moment of panic as the comic changed hands.

“I found myself wanting to say, ‘Hey did I point out the damage?'” he said, laughing. “But it’s part of the process. I’ve been able to find so many amazing things. If you’re making a little money, you can always go out and find more amazing things.”

The top portion of a 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' pinball game is among the items Sullivan has collected over the years. Whatever...Wilmington holds just a small portion of his finds, the bulk of which are housed in a warehouse.
The top portion of a ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ pinball game is among the items Sullivan has collected over the years. Whatever…Wilmington holds just a small portion of his finds, the bulk of which are housed in a warehouse.

These days, Sullivan doesn’t have to do much digging. Thanks to a long career on eBay and through connections he made in the local arts community long before the Internet, collectibles typically have a way of finding him.

Friends in the Wilmington film industry know who to call with set pieces, which is how Sullivan has wound up with a good chunk of “One Tree Hill” swag, like the stuffed purple monkey Brooke gave to Lucas and a never-before-seen gag poster signed by cast members.

He has also recently acquired what was left from the sci-fi cult classic, “Dune,” deemed as a box office flop when it was released in 1984. Most props from the movie, directed by David Lynch (Sullivan has memorabilia from Lynch’s famous locally shot “Blue Velvet”) and produced by Dino DeLaurentiis, were incinerated, Sullivan said.

But a few salvaged items now rest on Whatever…Wilmington’s shelves, including the robe DeLaurentiis wore on set. There’s not another like it – a fact in which Sullivan revels, since he focuses on the one-of-a-kind – so when if it finds a buyer, he will have to say goodbye forever.

“Once this is gone, I won’t own this ever again,” he said, donning the age-worn robe with a bittersweet expression.

As Whatever…Wilmington strives to find its foothold on Castle Street’s thriving commercial center, a window-front display does more than any signage could to bring in business.

One half of the cow that is gruesomely split in half in the first episode of “Under the Dome” has been adopted by Whatever…, and the sheer strangeness of it draws a steady flow of curious shoppers eager to take a look.

But in case you were in the market, the cow is not for sale. Some things, Sullivan said, patting his prop on the back, just can’t be negotiated.

Whatever…Wilmington, 608 Castle St., is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.

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