weeks ago I wrote a Loop posting about how I tried to get an interview
with the owners of Coal Umbrella only to discover they were shut down
and presumed gone for good. A mighty big blow to the University
Avenue area. A short 48 hours after the word got out to the masses...
they responded to the news!
Shrouded in a bit of mystery and confusion, the owners posted a short response on the front page of the shop's website, briefly alerting everyone of the issue and better yet, giving promise of new things yet to come. And in the process they got a hold of me about the news, and chatted with me for the interview I was originally planning to do. Today Maht Paulos talks about the store and its brief history along the story behind the closure, as well as thoughts on our scene and future plans...
Maht Paulos (with Liz Lightfoot)
Gavin: Hey Maht, first off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Maht: I was born/raised in Provo Utah, and Liz is from Nevada's Reno/Tahoe area. We were married in 2006.
Gavin: How did you both originally meet up?
Maht: Liz and I met through the King of Provo, Francesco Perri, back in 2004. We were BYU Cougars then, and every student there was only three degrees away from The King of Provo, so it was really only a matter of time that we got introduced or married or whatever!
Gavin: Where did the idea come from to start up Coal Umbrella?
Maht: We opened the shop really just to help contribute to what we thought was a cultural movement going on in Downtown Provo. We were inspired by businesses like Velour Live Music Gallery, GalleryOneTen, Muse Music, and Mode Boutique that were all doing very cool things for Provo. We had been selling vintage clothing on Ebay's international sites for a few years, so we already had some inventory.
Gavin: Was it a conscious decision to combined clothing with art and music, or was it something you fell into down the road?
Maht: Ya, the concept from the beginning was to have a curated collection of hand picked vintage and handmade clothing, new vinyl records, and exhibits from artists throughout the space. We thought each would compliment each other in a retail setting.
Gavin: For those who don't know, where did the name for the store come from?
Maht: The name "Coal Umbrella" is a Joscef Castor lyric from a Mathematics Et Cetera song.
Gavin: What drew you to the original location at University Avenue?
Maht: We wanted to be close to Corey Fox's Velour Live Music Gallery, which is located on a block in Downtown Provo that has been sort of Provo's local music center for 15 years, with music venue's occupying space(s) there since the early 90's.
Gavin: What was it like for you setting up shop, and how was it for you during that first month open?
Maht: We signed a lease for the space "as is", so we did all the renovations ourselves. The space had previously functioned as an apartment for like 75 years. It took a group of us two and half months to finish, but it allowed us to do everything exactly as we wanted. We did a ton of promoting on Facebook for the grand opening which ended up being a pretty successful affair. A lot of people in Provo knew about us right away, so it gave us some momentum our first month and onward.
Gavin: What's the process like for you choosing what you put in the shop from clothing to artwork?
Maht: When purchasing/curating for Coal Umbrella we try to find pieces that we are personally really into in fashion and contemporary art. For our clothing selections, we mostly scour flea markets in Kallyfornia these days.
Gavin: Now since we chatted, you were removed from your first location. What's the story behind that?
Maht: Ya, we are no longer there at 157 North University in Provo. It was nuts, the same week we accepted the Chamber of Commerce's 2009 Senator Reed Smoot Award for Best Small Business in Provo/Orem, our landlord illegally evicted us and gave us only three days to move everything out. I think it was like 3AM and raining cats and dogs when we finally finished getting everything out!
Gavin: What was the fallout like from both the fellow businesses and regulars?
Maht: It's hard to say for sure. I'm sure there has been some confusion as to what has been happening with the store, etc. Hopefully everyone is understanding of the situation, and can feel good to know that Coal Umbrella is still alive!
Gavin: What's the plan now for thew shop now that you're out of the Avenue?
Maht: For the summer we will be operating a by-appointment-only Coal Umbrella location in Provo, and selling a selection of our Women's clothing at Mode Boutique. We'll also be building our online store and focusing more attention on writing for our fashion blog.
Gavin: While we're chatting about it, what's your take on the local fashion scene, both good and bad?
Maht: We has some great boutique's and consignment shops and Fashion Stroll is great. A lot of cleverly dressed girls around here, but Utah guys are generally way lame in their attire.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it bigger or better?
Maht: Anyone can support local clothing boutiques, thereby growing Utah independent business and increasing the number of Utahn's looking cooler/feelin' better.
Gavin: What's your take on Fashion Stroll and what its done for both designers and local business?
Maht: We think it's a great thing. We've only been once, but are excited to get more involved in the future.
Gavin: How about your take on the local music scene and how its doing right now?
Maht: I think Utah's music scene could blow up really soon. S&S's Urban Lounge/Kilby Court are radical uber-indie venues that give a home to a ton of Salt Lake/Utah bands. Corey Fox's Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo is home to a very successful, albeit more commercially minded alt-country/Synth-Pop scene, including artists on major labels like Joshua James (Capitol, according to PASTE), RuRu (Columbia), and Neon Trees (Mercury). Some of our favorite Utah bands are Boots To The Moon, The John Whites, TaughtMe, The Eden Express, Old Smith, Tolchock Trio.
Gavin: Same question, but your opinions on the art scene and what's going on with it.
Maht: Salt Lake City, Spring City/Ephriam, and Provo all have remarkable gallery strolls and contemporary art movements happening. In terms of individual artists, we are mostly acquainted with what was going on in the Provo contemporary art scene when Coal Umbrella and Sego Art Center were still open and showing new exhibits monthly. Our favorite Utah artists, or at least those we've purchased work from, are Fidalis Buehler, Byron Stout, Jason Metcalf, Ryan Neely, Duane Call, and Andrew Ballstaedt.
Gavin: Focusing on Provo, what do you think of the underground culture starting to come into its own? Specifically what is (or was) building around the Avenue.
Maht: There are a lot of passionate young people in Provo, and that's really what the scene has always been built on. F Stop Café (250 N Univ.), and Rooster Noodle Bar (163 N Univ.) just opened, and a couple indie shops are opening at the Provo Towne Square this fall, so it looks like some cool stuff is still happening. It'd be nice to see more people continue to open cool indie businesses, and contribute to the young but growing scene.
Gavin: Being a local business owner, what's it like for you in this current economy?
Maht: It's a tad difficult right now, but we think businesses like ours just need to become a bit more nimble to survive.
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you and the shop the rest of the year?
Maht: Well actually, we are planning a move North this fall which we are really excited about. We are in the beginning stages of finding a suitable space for Coal Umbrella. Liz and I will also be recording and performing with Mathematics Et Cetera throughout the rest of the year.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Maht: Sinkane, is the musical project of our friend Ahmed Gallab who I grew up/played music in Provo with. He has also played in Caribou, Of Montreal, Born Ruffians, and is now recording/touring with Yeasayer. He has three great records that are well worth checking out. Also, check him out wearing some hawt Coal Umbrella leather here.