Sparrow Mart is a grocery store stocked with 31,000 items, every single one of them made from felt. It’s hard to fathom the concept until you’re actually standing in an aisle, plastic basket in hand, deciding among fuzzy boxes of Twinkies, adorable roller-grill hot dogs, and squishy boxes of Johnny Cat kitty litter. Each piece was hand-crafted and signed by British artist Lucy Sparrow and is available for purchase.
You’ll find the installation at The Standard in Downtown Los Angeles. Rows upon rows of recognizable household products await, from cleaners to condoms. Felt packs of cigarettes and felt lighters are stashed behind a felt-covered checkout lane and cash register. Felt money is dispensed from a felt ATM. There’s a cooler full of soft drinks, shelves of liquor and beer, and a rack of VHS tapes including Jaws and Ghostbusters. A butcher counter is hung with sausages, while bins overflow with bananas and watermelons. There’s even a sushi display, packed with tuna rolls and tomago. Shoppers can pack little sushi pieces onto plastic trays, complete with chopsticks, wasabi, and pickled ginger—all made from felt, of course. The store has a solid ‘80s vibe, with clerks flitting about in black and red uniforms. Sparrow herself might be seen whisking around on roller skates, her hair tied up in pigtails with checkered ribbon.
Sparrow Mart is Sparrow’s largest installation yet and her first on the West Coast, but it’s not her first foray into making a felt store. Sparrow previously displayed a 4,000-item exhibit, The Cornershop, in East London in 2014, and her felted bodega, 8 Till Late, popped up at The Standard, Highline in Manhattan over the summer of 2017.
“I love places where you don’t work there, you don’t live there, but it becomes your one-stop shop to go for emergency supplies,” she told Cartwheel. “I think those kinds of places are crucial in neighborhoods. It’s like a lifeline for people.”
The familiarity of the objects, from their packaging to the memories they conjure, seemed to delight Sparrow Mart’s fellow customers. They chatted about items that reminded them of loved ones, or which had been favorite childhood snacks. A passing clerk mentioned Reese’s Pieces packets and JIF Peanut Butter jars were especially popular with customers.
Sparrow said some of her favorite items in the store are the pieces of raw meat—pork cutlets and lamb chops—sewn with black button eyes and little smiles, cute as can be. She also enjoys making interactive items that can opened to reveal other surprises inside, like a single slice of SPAM nestled in “his little sleeping bag.”
Sparrow said smaller objects, like a piece of sushi, take her about two minutes to make, while the largest items can take up to a week. Some are strange to see felted; a grinning apple or rib-eye is cute, but boxes of pregnancy tests, vaginal creams, and laxatives are more surprising.
“I think that’s always more interesting than making something that is already cute,” Sparrow said. “Any unusual object always looks better in felt than standard things.”
Case in point: in 2015, Sparrow created a fuzzy sex shop in London’s Soho called Madame Roxy’s Erotic Emporium. It boasted S&M accoutrements, furry porno mags, dildos and butt plugs galore, a condom vending machine, and STD cells in jars. Earlier that same year, Sparrow’s The Warmongery contained felted guns and rifles, bundles of dynamite, baseball bats, knives, and grenades.
Though most items within Sparrow Mart are for sale, interested parties might want to stop by sooner than later. 8 Till Late in New York was so popular that Sparrow was forced to shut it down nine days early after selling out of 9,000 felt objects. This was even after the exhibit temporarily closed to allow Sparrow to restock, according to ArtNet. Prices begin at $5 for a piece of bubblegum, dispensed via a gumball machine in large plastic spheres, and increase given the size and complexity of the object.
Additionally, a Sparrow Mart pop-up counter in The Standard’s lobby area offers coffee, soda, beer, signature cocktails, and a selection of food. Items include the savory Sparrow Pie—stuffed with confit duck, caramelized onions, and ancho blackberry BBQ sauce—and a house-made chocolate Moon Pie. Certain items can be purchased with a corresponding Sparrow piece. The Grapehead cocktail—made with gin, elderflower liqueur, and CBD-infused grape juice—is $15 on its own or $75 accompanied by a felt jug of Welch’s Grape Juice.
Sparrow Mart is on display at The Standard, Downtown LA, August 1-31. Guests may visit the exhibit Tuesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. More info here.