As sisters Rebecca Salmond and Brittney Kreuzer sorted through their mom’s personal belongings at the Urban Empire store on Commercial Drive last Thursday afternoon, they shared stories of the woman who raised them single-handedly.
Patricia Salmond, who owned and operated the popular store for more than 20 years, died unexpectedly Jan. 13 as the result of a blood clot. Salmond, often referred to as the “Queen of Kitsch,” was 63 years old.
“Mom would call us about some new thing she wanted to buy for the store and then ask if we thought it was too inappropriate,” said Kreuzer, who lives in Hamilton, Ont. “If we said yes, she’d order it.”
Items from the store, famous for its off-colour greeting cards and fridge magnets, and kitschy items, such as the Grillz Dog Chew Toy, have been featured annually in the Courier’s Dreck the Halls Christmas gift guide.
But regular shoppers to Urban Empire know Patricia’s unusual taste in retail was not limited to holidays. Last week, large crow masks, dashboard parking goddesses, rubber lobster, elbow-length gloves, and bags emblazoned with “Random Crap” were on display throughout the store.
“You see that big iron cross in the window?” asked Kreuzer. “Mom was visiting me in Hamilton and when she saw it said she wasn’t coming home without it. It wouldn’t fit in the overhead so she sat with it the whole way home.”
The sisters sometimes fought back tears as they reminisced about their mom, but more often laughed as they shared stories about Patricia’s wicked sense of humour and terrible lack of cooking skills.
“We always called her the ‘Cajun cook’ because she blackened everything,” said Salmond.
Kreuzer added, “When she made cookies, we always went and got a knife so we could scrape the black parts off.”
The sisters said the outpouring from the community has been overwhelming and they consider it a testament to their mother’s attitude towards others. After word of Patricia’s death spread along the Drive, friends and acquaintances began leaving flowers at the door.
A memorial book was set up outside, but since the store is now open weekends, it’s been moved inside. While some messages refer to Patricia’s black sense of humour, others are more poignant.
David Harkens started the book off with a heartfelt message that read in part, “She is greatly missed, forever cherished and her spirit will always be by my side…”
Another contributor wrote, “You were such a huge part of this community! Your smile, wit and feisty personality will be sorely missed. Rest in peace…”
A small card tucked inside the book reads, “Keep on kicking ass girl.”
According to a brief obituary, before making her mark as the Queen of Kitsch, Patricia supported the theatre and arts communities and was the recipient of the John Post Award for academic excellence in the field of criminology.
Her daughters said there’s been much concern the store will close for good, but a serious offer to buy from a local could mean Urban Empire will carry on. With one sister living in Ontario and the other in Victoria, taking over from their mother is not an option.
The two are planning a celebration of Patricia’s life, likely in April, where friends, family and acquaintances can gather to talk about her.
“So they have time to get a story together,” said Salmond. “We want everyone to share stories about mom.”