DRAPER A typical first-time customer at Pirate O's sees the Italian wafer cookies she fell in love with while abroad years ago and purchases everything on the shelf, says owner Orian Collinsworth.
If she's not going crazy over a hard-to-find cookie, maybe she has been pining over one of the seven varieties of Haribo candies to be found in a far corner, or perhaps an herb-encrusted sheep-milk cheese in the room-sized cooler is calling her name.
"People come here for that one thing," said Collinsworth, who has owned the small-but-brimming gourmet grocery since it opened.
Pirate O's was originally conceived as a "treasure chest destination shop where customers could happen upon interesting, foreign items as they browsed for rare but popular favorites."
More than a decade later, the independent store has found its niche as an inexpensive alternative to boutiques but with more selection than traditional grocers or big-box stores.
Over the years, the business, built in an old World War II Army building, has gained quite a following. Shopping clubs from as far as Bountiful and Park City stop by, and some who first entered the stores in the arms of their parents are now returning on their own, Collinsworth said. Regular customers come as often as once a week or as seldom as once a year.
"A spectrum of people come in here, from 12 years old to 82," Collinsworth said. "It's so cool; I never expected that. I never expected to watch families grow up."
The success of Pirate O's rests on several things. First, Collinsworth owns his building, so isn't subject to dramatic rent increases. Second, he has learned to catch trends on their way up and again on their way down.
Collinsworth listens to his customers, who watch gourmet cooking shows and let him know what's popular. He also listens to his teenage employees, one of whom recently suggested a display of pirate toys and skull-and-crossbones jewelry.
In addition, Collinsworth stays current on the inventories of Salt Lake Valley shops such as Tony Caputo's Market and Deli and Siegfried's Delicatessen, he said. The small businesses regularly send customers to one another, he said.
"We're here to take care of our customer. If we don't have it, we want the customer to have it."
Despite Pirate O's old-fashioned values and strong community presence, the store struggles during its slow season pretty much any time other than the holidays, Collinsworth said. The falling dollar has also taken its toll, as wholesale prices for European candies have increased 24 percent recently.
Still, he hopes an expanding customer base and kitschy items such as the candy g-string and miniature plastic cocktail swords will keep the store afloat.
"I think (Pirate O's) definitely adds a flavor to the community," Collinsworth said. "Draper city likes us. I think they like having the store here."
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