Dilys Pau refers to her downtown Drexel shop as a variety store, and for good reason.
The storefront sign at Rebel Mouse Variety Store, at 114 S. Main St.. Drexel, reads “redneck, hippie, nerdy, convenience” underneath the store name.
The store opened April 1, and stocks everything from shampoo and band shirts to a vintage electric organ and military jackets. In the middle of the store sits a large couch with books, magazines and candles placed on a table behind a life-size Brad Paisley cutout.
“I have T-shirts, rebel flag stuff, veteran jackets, military shirts, nerdy stuff, patches,” Pau said.
When asked about her rebel flag memorabilia, Pau, a Burke County native and 2003 Freedom High School graduate, assured she is not aiming to cause an uproar.
“Some people might not be too happy about the rebel flags, but that’s why (the display) is in the back,” she said. “It is a variety store, but my focus is not on rebel flag stuff. (The memorabilia) is a portrait of the area. It’s also a portrait of democracy — different kinds of opinions, different kinds of representations, whatever.”
The variety of the merchandise in her store is representative of the variety of experiences throughout Pau’s life.
She studied Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations with a focus on Turkic languages at the University of Washington-Seattle. She is interested in history, psychology, philosophy and Gnostic Christianity, and she used to be a turntable DJ. She speaks English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Uyghur — a Turkic language. She lived in Hong Kong and taught in Istanbul, a city with more than 15 million residents.
Pau said she went to Turkey “to work and immerse in what she went to school for,” and ended up leaving because the Arab Spring movement, a series of anti-government protests throughout North Africa and the Middle East in the early 2010s, began to trickle into Turkey.
Still, Burke County has always been home.
“I always come back to this area,” she said. “I just feel comfortable. I am used to the environment here and the attitude. I’m just used to it. This is home.”
Pau said the downtown Drexel location is “slow” and “very quiet,” but that she likes it. She enjoys being a part of the Drexel community, where she lives, too. She especially enjoys offering a store where people can get together and hang out.
“I tried to create a chill-out vibe, for people to just hang out,” she said. “Most of the people that come in to this store, they come in here on a regular basis. I get people that live around the area just strolling. They don’t have to buy anything, they can just come talk to me. That’s why I have the couch here honestly.”
For years, people in downtown Drexel have had little to do, and many folks are hoping that the area can come alive again. Pau said the Drexel Heritage furniture store plant closing in 2014 had a lot to do with the area’s commercial downfall. Still, residents are hopeful about a rejuvenation similar to downtown Morganton and Valdese.
“(People who come into the store) are just people in Drexel that want to have something,” she said. “It seems like everyone that I talk to that lives here in Drexel, we all want this part of town to come back alive, the way it was before they closed the (Drexel Heritage) plant. It was busy here, and we see that downtown Morganton looks good, and downtown Valdese, but it feels like they just kind of left this part of Burke County alone.”
Pau said there are only a few businesses downtown, including the famous Drexel Barber Shop, which has been open since February 1949, and the newly opened Corner Café & Winery, which opened in June.
The new store openings are beneficial for downtown, and Pau is optimistic that Drexel will bring business back.
“If we just stay for longer, eventually we can generate some traffic, and then people of this town, hopefully businesses will come in.”
Pau picks up concert tickets from a record store in Charlotte, which she often gives away on Facebook. In the past, she has given away tickets to Grungefest at the Fillmore, and Drake Party at The Underground.
“I only get to live like this one time,” she said. “That’s how I look at it. So, I want to live it the way I want to.”
That’s exactly what Pau is doing — living life her way, bringing her unique variety of interests to Drexel and hoping to revitalize the community.