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Ray's Consignment Shop: Fun Finds & Friendship on Calle Miramar
email this pageprint this pageemail usRoberta Rand - PVNN
November 05, 2010

Ray Smith's consignment shop is located on Calle Miramar, just north of the Rio Cuale bridge in downtown Puerto Vallarta.
As you cross the portal into Ray Smith's consignment shop on Calle Miramar, just north of the Rio Cuale bridge, you are first greeted by the yapping of Ray's rescued Chihuahua, Chi-Chi.

Chi-Chi greets every customer with a big-dog attitude, yapping vociferously before retreating to Ray's favorite chair, Command Central in the ordered chaos of PV's most popular destination for thrift-store junkies.

Ray hoists the diminutive pooch, where she rests in the crook of his arm like a little Buddha, her eyes half closed and tongue sticking partly out. The tiny, Martian-headed dog nestled in doting "pappy's" arms veritably shouts, "PHOTO OP."

Less of an extrovert, Ray's one-eyed cat, Bubba, peeks out from behind a computer monitor. Bubba was mauled in a cat fight last year. "I've spent a lot of money on repairing that cat," he says. "But he hasn't been quite right since." Visitors to the shop perch on chairs in the lounge area/retail space weighing in on issues of the day. A pall of cigarette smoke hangs in the air, but nobody seems to mind.

One is left with the impression that Ray is the patron saint of Vallarta's strays - the canine, feline and human variety. A steady stream of tourists and locals drop in to scan the inventory, but stay to chew the fat on every topic, from drug cartels to the state of tourism in PV.

"People like to come in here to talk and just hang out," says Ray in a sorghum-thick Oklahoma drawl. "Sometimes I feel like a therapist. But it's okay with me," he chuckles. "I like the company."

Of course, sooner or later, an item will catch someone's eye - a funky ashtray, the signed photo of Eleanor Roosevelt hanging behind Ray's chair. It's a "Field of Dreams" sales approach that PV's time-share piranhas could learn from: "If you build it, they will come" - especially if a cute dog the size of a crudité is involved.

Ray's store is an amalgam of junk shop, art gallery, lunch counter and Left Bank salon, not necessarily in that order. A TV sits in one corner tuned to Mexican music videos with the sound turned down. A collection of small paintings by outsider artist Israel Vivient are arranged on a chair, while colorful interpretations of Gustav Klimt and a patchwork of original canvases and copies of old masters crowd the walls up to the ceiling.

One half-expects Gertrude Stein to be holding court in the corner, while Toulouse Lautrec makes an appearance with a few sketches under his arm to put on consignment. Young Mexican men float in and out, helping themselves to whatever's simmering in an electric skillet on the kitchen counter. It's the PV equivalent to a mid-west small-town donut shop, only for artsy eccentrics and homesick gringos - people in need of an American-style flea market fix.

The store's inventory changes with the seasons as snowbirds come and go, looking to furnish their condos in the high season or reduce clutter before heading back to Canada or the States. Old clock radios share space with bronze sculptures, stuffed toys, paperback books and new home décor items.

Ray leaves it to customers to sift through the piles in the back, adding to the delicious feeling that you're digging through granny's attic for hidden treasure. When asked about his attitude about all the objets d'art that have passed through his hands through the years, Ray confesses that he holds it all lightly. "The fun for me is in the find, not hanging on to it. I don't need a lot of material things to be happy." His personal philosophy is evident when one peeks into his Spartan bedroom with unadorned walls and a twin bed dressed only in white sheets. It looks like a monk's cell.

Every morning, before he opens the shop, Ray walks to the corner Oxxo, buys a cup of coffee and heads for his favorite bench on the small plaza in front of the Iglesia. There he sits and sips his daily brew in the relative calm before Vallarta's streets turn noisy with traffic. He calls it his "quiet time" - a moment to commune with his Creator and get centered before tackling the day.

One gets the impression that Ray's real business is unconditional friendship - he acknowledges that he's been the victim of robberies. Others have taken excessive advantage of his kindness. But he takes it all in stride, saying without a trace of bitterness, "My parents were Okies - sharecroppers who had nothing. I remember standing in the doorway of our farmhouse, watching the hail destroy our crops. I know what it is to live in hard times."

On this particular day, Ray shares a few more anecdotes and downs the last of his coffee. Time to head back to Chi-Chi, Bubba and to someone looking for the perfect flower pot - or maybe just a listening ear. At Ray's Consignment Shop, the doctor is almost always "in."

Roberta Rand is Owner/Creative Director of Palabras Mágicas Marketing and the author "Playing the Tuba at Midnight" (IVP, 1995), humor and encouragement for single women. Read more of Roberta's observations about life and Mexico on her blog, She lives in Puerto Vallarta with her dog Bo.

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