Walking through Aggieville, there is an unusual store that doesn’t specialize in selling just one kind of thing. Rather, it has a small, eclectic selection of a bunch of different trinkets.
When someone steps inside On the WildSide, they will immediately smell the scent of 29 years of incense within the walls. While the workers don’t burn incense at the store, On the WildSide sells plenty of it for discerning customers.
Megan Springer, the store manager, said she can’t detect the scent that has collected over the years anymore. The store sells 12 brands of incense with 30 to 40 scents each, many from India, along with many other items.
The biggest sellers at On the WildSide are their “new age” products, which are used as part of spiritual and religious practices that originated in the 1970s and are popular among those interested in alternative ways of experiencing spirituality.
“Our new age stuff is big,” Springer said. “Crystals, a lot of the raw stones and the natural stones. We have people that come in just for the tobacco shop.”
Still, incense is what drives most of the sales at On the WildSide, Springer said.
“All in all, what we sell the most of — it might not be the biggest money maker because it’s cheap — is incense,” Springer said. “We have one of the biggest incense selections maybe even in the state.”
The store was founded in 1990 by Gary Bedenharn, who moved to the area from New York City when he transferred to Fort Riley as a member of the U.S. Army. Springer described him as “hippie-ish” with long hair, and said he was very much a “Deadhead,” a dedicated fan of the rock band The Grateful Dead.
“He just saw that [the store] was something we didn’t have here,” Springer said. “There was a little bit of a resurgence, people were getting into the Dead in the ’90s. That’s certainly when I did, but that’s because my parents took me, when I was like 12, to a Grateful Dead concert.”
Springer said a lot of people still had nostalgia for the hippie movement in the 1990s, even though it was well on its way out.
“A lot of people come and they think that we’re some store that was here in the ’60s that was in Aggieville,” Springer said.
Springer’s mother bought the store in 2001 when Bedenharn moved back to New York City. Along with selling incense, crystals and tobacco, the store also sells Grateful Dead T-shirts and does local commissions for art, jewelry and dreamcatchers. On the WildSide also sells disc golf equipment and sponsors various events around the area.
“We’ve got a couple of the [disc golf] baskets at the river pond and at Fairmont Park,” Springer said. “We bought some of the baskets when they expanded. We donate to a lot of little tournaments.”
A total of six employees work at the store, including Springer, her mother and her aunt.
“Even if you’re not family, you’re part of our family if you work here,” Springer said.
Springer added that she wants people who come into On the WildSide to experience positive energy.
“They’ll just come in, even if they’re not going to buy anything, they’ll pet the cat, and they’ll just be like, ‘Thank you, you just made my day better,’” Springer said. “Kindness is a big thing. You want to come in, you want to talk, you don’t want to buy anything, that’s fine. Come in, pet Star, see what we’re up to. We’re happy to do that. We just try to emit good vibes.”
As the store seeks to help local artists and sponsor events in the area, Springer said making connections is really important to them.
“Helping community, supporting community,” Springer said. “We’re big into that.”