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Sep
26
2020
From The Print Last Week

Eric and Jackie Clark survey the stock in their new Dayton Street store, Rock Around the Clark. Eric holds a mammoth tooth while he examines a cluster of turritella, marine gastropods related to modern day snails. On display in the foreground is a fossilized nest of dinosaur eggs. (Photo by Lauren “Chuck” Shows)

Fossils fuel new local shop

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About five years ago, the lives of the Clarks — Eric, Jackie, Paige and Levi — changed one night at an Olive Garden restaurant. The family was celebrating Jackie’s mom’s birthday, when she overheard her husband, Eric, say, “We’ll take it.”

The “it,” in this case, was a large warehouse in Middletown, Ohio, which housed a collection of around 10,000 fossil specimens.

Now, the family is celebrating the opening of a new store in the village where they’ll sell their large collection of prehistoric wares. Rock Around the Clark, as the shop is known, opened late last week on Dayton Street.

The Clarks’ mammoth collection was pieced together over a period of 40 years by the late Larry Cain, a Middletown resident and the father-in-law of Jackie Clark’s sister. At the aforementioned Olive Garden birthday dinner, where this extended family was assembled, Eric Clark learned of the fossil horde from Larry Cain’s twin sons, David and Scott. The brothers had inherited the warehouse full of fossils from their father, but weren’t keen to carry on in his footsteps.

“They’re not into fossils at all — you don’t always want to do what your parents did,” Jackie said.

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Eric and Jackie said their original goal was to sell the entire warehouse and its contents as a unit — but the collection was just too large to attract a single buyer.

“You’d literally have to rent a semi to get everything,” Eric said.

The Clarks also found that collectors tend to be selective about the types of fossils they’re interested in, and Larry Cain’s tastes over the years were more varied than most.

“There’s shark people, dinosaur people, trilobite people,” Eric said. “So we decided to do it the old-fashioned way.”

The old-fashioned way, for several years, meant selling off the collection, piece by piece, at various regional festivals, including Street Fair, and at gem, mineral and fossil shows. Working at these shows has given the Clarks a good idea of what fossil-lovers, both casual and serious, most want to see on their shelves.

Sometimes the location of a show might influence what sells, they said. Teeth from the ancient, giant shark megalodon don’t sell as well in North Carolina, for example, where they’re often found on the beaches — here in Ohio, the teeth are more popular. Ammonites are also favorites, especially ones that are halved to show the geode-like inner chambers that the prehistoric mollusks outgrew as they lived. Trilobites — marine arthropods and Ohio’s state fossil — are best-sellers as well.

Speaking of trilobites: how do you pronounce the word? Is it “trill-obites” or “try-lobites?” The Clarks said their time spent with other fossil enthusiasts at gem, mineral and fossil shows leads them to believe both are correct.

“I think it’s regional,” Eric said. “‘Mudbugs’ is also acceptable.”

The Clarks enjoyed their time on the festival and show circuit, but there’s one facet of fossils that makes carting them back and forth difficult.

“They’re heavy!” Jackie said. “We were ready for a storefront.”

The space that Rock Around the Clark now occupies was previously used to house furniture from Design Sleep, which is located downstairs from the new store. It only took the family about a week to get the space set up once they found it, owing in part to the fact that they already had a bounty of inventory to work with.

Most of that inventory has now been moved from the Middletown warehouse to storage in the village; those interested in seeing the full collection as it appeared in the warehouse can find a virtual tour of all the pieces at Rock Around the Clark’s website. The Clarks are working toward selling the warehouse, now empty except for a large prehistoric crocodile head still encased in excavation plaster and a dinosaur nest so heavy it has to be transported on wheels. Rock Around the Clark’s storefront also boasts a — much smaller — dinosaur nest on display.

Due to the size of their inventory, the Clarks aren’t actively adding to their fossil stock, and don’t intend to. Though they look forward to running the store, their ultimate goal is to sell the entire collection.

“It’s a liquidation,” Eric said.

When asked about their expertise in the field of fossil study, Eric replied, laughing: “Oh, we have none.”

He clarified: “It’s just something we’re interested in.”

The Clarks know enough to generally identify their pieces; more specific information, such as what era a fossil likely comes from or the differences between, say, different types of trilobites comes from third parties who come in to study the pieces.

“The challenge is that I am not a paleontologist — so when people come in and want to know more about the pieces, I can’t always tell them,” Eric said.

This challenge hasn’t been much of a damper for the Clarks so far, though; they’ve found that seasoned fossil collectors often already know what they’re looking for, and for the less seasoned, the information the Clarks are able to provide is enough.

This summer, the whole family is involved in running Rock Around the Clark. In the fall, however, when the kids go back to school and Jackie returns to teaching in Fairborn, Eric will hold down the fort on his own. For his part, he intends to enjoy being in the shop, surrounded by the evidence of the planet’s long and dazzling natural history — something that hasn’t gotten old for him yet.

“It’s really just fascinating — the first time we walked into the warehouse, we were flabbergasted,” he said. “You just can’t help yourself.”

Rock Around the Clark is located at 108 Dayton St., Suite L, upstairs. Hours are Wednesday–Friday, noon to 6 p.m.; Saturday, noon –7 p.m.; and Sunday, noon–4 p.m. Masks are required inside the store. For more information, visit rockaroundtheclark.com.

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