Joe Jaszewski, Associated Press
Dennis Shipley postures fiercely with one of the gargoyles he sells at Great Gargoyles at his side.

BOISE — With his shaved head and broad shoulders, Dennis Shipley cuts an imposing figure.

"If you painted me green, I'd look like Shrek," he says.

And it's true, he would.

Shipley is what you would call a Renaissance man of commerce. Shipley's most notable business may be the one hinted at by the van parked outside. Gargoyles, held in place by straps, perch atop it.

Great Gargoyles, Shipley's retail and wholesale gargoyle business, fills one whole wall of the shop.

Here are his five fast reasons everyone needs a gargoyle:

1. "It boils down to everyone needing a belief. Originally, gargoyles were protectors. I had a client come in who was battling cancer. She bought a gargoyle for protection."

2. "People love to collect gargoyles. I know two people in Boise who each have hundreds of gargoyles."

3. "Gargoyles are decorative and cool. I have one outside in my waterfall. It stays out all winter, freezes and thaws with everything else."

4. "Gargoyles are a part of our past. They let the artistic side of humans come out. Gargoyles started as a round drain pipe, and grew into a huge following."

5. "Every new sale I make takes 30 minutes. Twenty of that is me educating people about gargoyles. The other 10 is them deciding which one to buy."

His shop is on Orchard Street between a sushi bar and a leather store, which makes for interesting items in the community Dumpster, he said.

His shop is really several in one. He builds, upgrades and repairs computers. He oversees several cases of body jewelry gems for any body part you might need to decorate. He does not do piercings himself but lives by the motto: "You poke 'em, we plug 'em."

He keeps what he calls "China Row," the most random, yet useful assortment of items: tiny metal capsules that will hold ID or a few aspirin tablets and hang from your dog's collar; a packet of 50 needles for one dollar and a set of Pakistani dental picks. They didn't make the cut for medical use but would be invaluable to the home hobbyist.

Shipley likes to quiz his customers. He holds up a small, "multipurpose" hatchet.

"You know who buys these? Real estate agents. They use them to pound their For Sale signs into the ground, and for protection."

The 12-inch metal tweezers he sells are beloved by convenience store maintenance workers who use them to pull plastic straws out of drains.

But the gargoyle business is slowly spilling over into China Row: "Garth," a winged, taloned creature Shipley considers his "signature piece," threatens to crowd in on a box of three-plug outlets.

Any discussion of gargoyles begs an explanation because Hollywood distorted their original purpose as waterspouts that kept rain off medieval roof tops to put them on par with the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Shipley has seen "Gargoyles," the campy made-for-TV movie from 1972 that planted the seeds of gargoyle love in a generation of Americans.

In the film, scientists find a mysterious skeleton in the Arizona desert. They remove it from its burial ground for study and pretty soon, a colony of gargoyles comes looking for its unearthed compatriot.

"If you think about that movie, were the gargoyles truly mean? Or were they just family oriented?" Shipley said. "They just wanted to recover the body of one of their members."

When he first saw the movie as a kid, he had mixed feelings about the gargoyles. But during years of working in law enforcement — yet another of his professional ventures — he saw human tragedy up-close. His feelings about the creatures changed.

"Those gargoyles weren't doing anything that you or I wouldn't do."

He believes gargoyles are good-hearted protectors, but sometimes that idea's a hard sell.

He remembers two matrons of a certain age who walked by his open door one day and exclaimed, "I cannot believe they put a devil worshipping shop right next to Tandy Leather."

"Quick," Shipley says. "Without looking, tell me how many gargoyles are in this store."

Knowing what you already know about Shipley, it may not surprise you that this is a trick question. The answer is zero, because a gargoyle is only a gargoyle if it is an operating water spout.

Amusing carved creatures that do anything from holding your rolls of toilet paper to perching on your garden gate, to guarding your front porch, are actually "grotesques," though "gargoyle" seems to have become the default term for all of the above.

Shipley was never a huge fan of gargoyles or grotesques, but his wife liked them, and they'd generally buy them whenever they had the chance.

In 2004, Shipley, always on the lookout for a good business, started to wonder whether gargoyles were in his future. He ordered $1,000 worth of English gargoyles, set up a rack in the shop and created a "hokey" Web page.

The gargoyles sold instantly and Shipley sensed a trend.

After that modest beginning, he now has gargoyles made to his specifications in China and orders crates of them at a time. The Great Gargoyles Web site features 82 categories of the creatures.

Shipley's typical customer is 35 to 55 with a good job and well-versed in history, not the Goth kid you might expect, he said. He's learned that the people who like gargoyles often like dragons. Some of those people like skulls, "skull-goyles," guardian demons and anything with a Celtic design.

Lots of the people who like those things also like incense, so Shipley buys a thousand sticks of it to sell each month.

His inventory has expanded in ways he couldn't have imagined.

"You would be shocked by how many people come here looking for garden gnomes."

When they come to Great Gargoyles, they'll find them.

Shipley shakes his finger at two portly, red-hatted beings.

"You guys better bring me luck," he says.