Just inside the front door of the Grand Avenue Ale House is a large yellow vending machine. If you’re craving a sandwich wrapped in dodgy plastic or a plain candy bar, you’re out of luck. But if you’re looking for art and adventure, you’ve come to the right place. This machine has come to you via Pocket Box, a new venture owned and operated by Kari Graczyk and Chris Rapp who intend to bring a little fun and convenience to your favorite haunts.
The couple moved from Portland, Oregon, to Bellingham in April 2021 and enjoy the similarities they found between the two cities. “We haven’t been here very long, but we have friends who come from here, so we’ve been visiting for a very long time,” Kari explains. “We fell in love with this place a long time ago.”
While living in their old home, the discovery of similar vending machines planted an idea in Kari’s head. “When Kari first moved to Portland, there were only a few places that had vending machines with weird, kitschy stuff,” Chris explains. “Whether it’s zines a local artist wrote, VHS tapes, He-Man toys – just really random, cool, weird stuff.”
It didn’t take long for the unusual company with its unusual treats to make a lasting impression on Kari. “It became my obsession,” she says. “They were in taverns and bars, and all sorts of different places around town, and then over the years they increased. When friends from out of town came to town, I specifically took them to these places so we could check out the machines.
After settling into life at Bellingham, it became clear that Kari had the creative selling bug. She soon quit her job and began the unusual search for a vending machine. “There were a lot of looks on Facebook and Craigslist marketplaces, and phone calls to every vending machine business we could find,” she says. A friend found the first one the couple bought. “We struggled to figure out how to move an 800-pound machine and put it in our tiny storage unit.”
As COVID restrictions eased and businesses started to reopen again, the couple shopped around and decided to focus on great for their first internship. “Selling the brand is really difficult when you don’t see it. People just hear a vending machine and they say, “Yeah, we have a snack vending machine,” Kari says. “Then we say, ‘It’s not what we think; we are an extraordinary vending machine company.’”
The couple describe the machine’s stock at the Grand as a mix of convenience, nostalgia and mystery items. “You can find a lighter in there, gum, Tums, lipsticks,” Kari explains. But some of the convenience elements might seem a little less obvious. “You can find condoms and pregnancy tests. We continue to sell pregnancy tests, but we haven’t sold a single condom. We thought it was some kind of joke, then we walk in and they just left.
And from there, things get even weirder. “Right now we have a lot of books that are selling really well, which is great,” Kari says, “and then there are mystery bags of 90s nostalgia and mystery socks.”
Not only are the 1990s memorabilia bags selling well, they also helped convince the owner of the Grand to house the first Pocket Box. “The idea behind mystery bags is that when you take something out of the machine, you go back to your table and sit down with your friends and open it,” says Chris. “You put everything on the table and play, have fun. Everyone has something to say and something to do that’s a little more interactive, instead of relying on our phones. If we can get people to read a book or have a conversation with someone about some silly little toy we put in a bag, that’s a win for all of us.
In addition to useful items and fun distractions, Pocket Box also strives to add artwork to its offerings. “Kari worked to get a group of artists into the machines, and their friends and fellow artists were really helpful,” says Chris. “That’s another aspect that business owners are interested in, because we also do this for the arts in the community.”
As Pocket Box offers more products in more locations, Kari and Chris are aware of the opportunity to continue to surprise customers with new items tailored to each location. “We have three refurbished machines in our workshop and have a location for our next machines: in Black sheep on Holly Street, and in Rumors on Railroad,” says Chris. “Once we got into other places, you could see a completely different variety of artists and fun stuff in the machine. It won’t be the same in every place.
They hope to have all three machines in place before the end of the year, as well as a website to make it easier for them to communicate with artists, as all art has to be of a certain size and weight, as well as in a certain type. of packaging. “Right now, we’re encouraging people to message us on instagram Where Facebookor by e-mail”, explains Kari, “because soon we will have other machines installed.
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