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Rail/Road Gifts by Steve: The Guy Behind the Gifts
Steve has become a friend of ours here at Cats Like Us and it’s no wonder. We share a love of vintage, retro, history and pop culture. He crafts wonderful shadow boxes and notecards and sells vintage advertisements. Cats Like Us wants YOU to know a little more about him since he’s a pretty fun guy, so here’s our interview…
1. Why is your business called Rail Road Gifts by Steve when you use all kinds of cars in your work not just trains?
It’s actually Rail/Road Gifts, implying both cars and trains, but sometimes the slash gets lost, what with the internet and all. We have a picture of a car on our sign and on our business cards, so people know that we do more than train stuff.
2. Can you list all the different types of items you sell?
The three main items Rail/ Road Gifts sells are shadowboxes, which is usually a hot wheel size classic car in a box with a 3-D background, we make something called a table topper-- which is like a less complicated, a less expensive shadowbox-- and vintage ads. Then we make retro note cards and very soon retro necklaces for Cats Like Us.
3. You make custom shadow boxes with different themes and cars, what made you start making shadow boxes? What's your most requested theme or car?
My first shadow box was a gift for a family member. I had a piece of railroad ephemera that wouldn’t be enough for a gift in itself, but if I put it in a box with a little railcar… then it became a hobby, and then a business. Our most popular theme by far is that of a certain local custard stand. Someone actually had me make boxes for the family that owns the company, and they loved them!
4. You seem very interested in visual history and vintage photographs and ads, where does the interest come from?
I am a firm believer in semiotics, and that every image contains an intended and perceived message. I find it interesting how some of the methods to convey messages, and what that message is and was, has changed over the years. Great artists convey powerful messages simply, so do advertisements. For me that line blurs.
You can learn more about the times people lived in by looking at advertisements in an old magazine than the actual articles. Or looking at someone’s family album. Even as Wars rage on, people still want to buy Pepsi, and sunglasses and new cars. People still have birthdays and go on vacation regardless of who the president is. Those “everyday” images mean more to me than “official” history.
5. I noticed you are strongly influenced by pop culture. What or who are your favorite pop culture icons and why?
I think anyone that takes something common and puts it on a pedestal or takes something fancy and drags it through the mud is doing it right. I like flea markets because the 80s toys are in the case next to daguerreotypes. Both are equally exciting to me.
6. Where do you see Rail/ Road Gifts by Steve going in the future? Do you have some ideas for new products?
We get a little bigger and a little better known every year. New opportunities and new audiences are what drive that. I’m a big believer in fate, and that things happen when they are supposed to happen.
We want to make our love of vintage ads a little more "portable" for people, so jewelry, buttons, magnets---things like that. Products that are not just limited to "car culture".
7. What is it like working with Cats Like Us?
The thing I like about working with the store is that Julie Ann and Andrew are both super supportive. Sometimes I think they get more excited about my work than I do. My best work is done when I know the person I am making the item for. So while you guys may not be the final "owner", it makes it easier for me to say to myself "I think Andrew would like this" or "Would Julie Ann use a note card like that?"
8. Who is this "we" you keep referring too? Like the royal "we"?
No, not at all. My partner Jen is really involved in the business. She takes care of all the business stuff, but has a good eye and tells me when things look good, or horrible. She also is responsible for keeping inventory of our thousands of cars. That’s her handwriting on the back of the magazine ads too!
9. You don't have a website, so how can people find you?
You can see the Rail/ Road Gifts that Cats Like Us sells here: http://shop.catslikeus.com/collections/rail-road-gifts
Also look for Steve at Western New York car shows as well as Cats Like Us! Steve will be in the shop selling his wares on Sat, May 5 all day. So join us for a Cinco de Mayo celebration! More details can be found here:
I would like to thank Steve for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to his new products.
See you at the Rail/ Road Gifts Cinco de Mayo party at Cats Like Us!
p.s. I have a custom made Munsters shadow box and I love it. You can put them on a wall or a shelf and I’ve hung mine so I walk by it at least five times a day. It makes me happy. =)