Now, America’s most beloved highway has always been known to embrace the unexpected: Catoosa’s Big Blue Whale or larger than life Muffler Men that dot the old road, the bedazzling: the fantastic neon signs that light up the night at places like The Blue Swallow Motel, Munger Moss Motel and downtown strip in Gallup, New Mexico, to the downright odd like the Uranus complex in St Robert’s, Missouri and Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch in the desert of California, but few boutiques along the fabled highway are quite able to rival Murray’s vision for quirky.
In a word, it’s hard to miss Bazaar on 66 in the heart of Elk City’s downtown. Giant old-fashioned light-up marquee letters in red and gold spell out the shop’s name, and the same red arrow that her trailer park neighbors hated points boldly toward the front door.
A life-sized jaunty and smiling Ronald McDonald statue waves at passers-by from the front porch of the building tucked neatly on the corner of Randall Street and W. 3rd, and a red and white race car sits upon a post in front of the store.
Inside, the shop is just as weird and wonderful as the outside. The full-sized Barbie that started Murray’s fascination with all things unusual has an honored place in the shop that sells fun and pithy signs that spout sayings like “Howdy!” or “Where the Heck is Easy Street?”, Route 66 clothing and country collectibles. A giant black cat glares down from the ceiling.
The truly unique part of the store – and Melody’s favorite section – is stuffed with unicorns.
“Oh golly, I always wanted a store. We literally got stuck with this building, and its a pretty good property, so we thought, ‘Let’s make a store and, we’ll see what happens,’ Murray said. “I wanted something different, something to set myself apart as just not another boutique. So, we just kinda went with it and I don’t really know what happened. Here we are. That’s the real truth.”
As Route 66 in Elk City’s newest boutique, Murray and her Bazaar on 66 have created something magical, but it all started with the lake house.
Marching to Her Own Drum
In many ways, Murray is the human equivalent to her shop. She bubbles with energy through her thin frame and big round eyes. Conversations go into tangents about funny people in her life, she has a rat rod she drives occasionally in the back (complete with a beer keg gas tank and a radiator overflow made from a Jaegermeister bottle), she is best friends with the notorious Sand Hill Curiosity Shop owner Harley Russell III, and she once (temporarily) tattooed “grateful” on the arm of an elderly woman who had an epilepsy attack in her store - after getting her help, of course.
She grew up on a farm in east Texas, and while admittedly being a girl who danced to her own beat, her obsession with collecting didn’t hit until later. “I grew up on 600 acres, and I didn’t have any friends to play with. I had a horse and I rode him every day,” she said.
Murray graduated from Hallsville High School in East Texas, and was three hours shy of earning her teaching accreditation from The University of Texas in Tyler. “I thought I wanted to be a teacher until they put me in a classroom for my student teaching. I knew right that moment that teaching wasn’t for me.”
Instead, she left college and worked in her father’s health store. One day, a football coach from one of the schools wandered in to try to sell an ad for the school football team. “Cute little Jarrod comes into the store, but we had a rule that we didn’t buy anything from the schools because there were so many of them,” said Murray. “But he was so cute, and I wanted him to come back, so I told him to come the next day to talk to my dad.”
Jarrod climbed back into the truck with his other football pals, but already had a plan. “I told them I was going to marry that girl,” he said.
He returned the next day and returned again and again. After just two months of dating, he proposed to Murray on her birthday, and the two tied the knot a mere 10 days after she said “yes.”
But coaching doesn’t pay much, so when Jarrod was offered a significant pay raise to work in the oilfield business, the young couple jumped at the chance. Melody and Jarrod Murray moved to Elk City in 2006 with their three children in tow, and while a small-town girl, she didn’t know much about the Oklahoma town or its Route 66 history.
“I didn’t know anything about Elk City, but we went to the Route 66 Museum here a couple of times. Just because, you know, there’s not a whole lot to do here,” she said.
Although they lived in Elk City, Murray and her family set their sights on a vacation “lake house,”—a brand-new double-wide trailer—at Lake Texoma in south Oklahoma near Ardmore. Murray’s mother and her in-laws had lake homes on Lake Texoma, and they wanted their vacation home to be fun and unforgettable.
“So, I get this lake house, and we just make it fun with all that stuff you want to really put in your house, but you’re normal and you can’t,” she said. “I was a stay-at-home mom, but it was really boring. There’s only so much house you can clean. So we got a fun lake house.”
The couple collected random neon signs for the back porch of the trailer. The signs came from flea markets and online so Jarrod could create “his back porch hangout.”
There were so many neon signs that motorists accidentally mistook the trailer home for a store, she said.
“It was interesting because people would come in and try to buy milk or beer because we had this circle driveway, and I can see where they think it looks kind of like a store,” Murray admits. “But we also had Barbie in the window.”
The blazing neon signs and the life-like Barbie peeking out from the front of the trailer with the “No Vacancy” sign was bad enough for the neighbors, but add in random mannequin legs sticking out of the bathtub and giant Ronald McDonald and Captain Morgan statues waving to visitors, and the neighbors had enough.
“They complained to my mom, who also had a lake house, that we were bringing down the value of the trailer park,” Murray laughed. “That kind of hurt my feelings. I just had all this weird stuff and people didn’t like it. I really think they were jealous.”
Melody’s mom, Carla Salmon, blamed the complaints on a few stuck-up neighbors.
“It was cute, and all lit up with the signs. Every once in a while, people would pull up and want to order a drink, and she’d tell them, ‘We’re not serving right now’,” Salmon laughed. “Most of the neighbors loved it, but you always have a few in the crowd that frown at everything. There were a few snooty ones down there.”
Jarrod thought the place was perfect, too.
“We were trying to create a party. It was a fun place that people wanted to come and sit in and enjoy a beer,” he said. “We had one of the nicest places. No one else had an 8- foot-tall Captain Morgan sitting on their back porch.”
In 2016, Murray started moving her beloved treasures out of the lake house, but still didn’t think about opening a store. How Bazaar on 66 came to be is another story altogether.
Lemons Out of Lemonade
While Murray was freaking out her neighbors at Lake Texoma, her husband had an opportunity to open a car shop in Elk City. He bought the building to eliminate rent, but the venture fell through.
“It was a business deal gone wrong,” said Jarrod. “Me and the other guy were headed in different directions, and I opened Jughead’s Garage and he opened up another shop. I ended up with the building. [Melody] always wanted to open a shop, and that’s what she did.”
She ordered the light-up marquee letters and, because the property was along Route 66, decided to pay homage to The Mother Road. But she didn’t realize how popular Route 66 was until travelers came in from all over the world.
Bazaar on 66 opened in September 2017, making it one of the newest boutique businesses on Elk City’s stretch of Route 66.
“When she opened Bazaar on 66, Melody created a great asset. It’s a fun, unique place, and she is a fun and unique person. She really played up the decorations on the outside, and I think that was very smart of her,” said Susie Cupp, Executive Director of the Elk City Chamber of Commerce.
But despite the sparkling marquee, giant arrow and waving Ronald McDonald, the grand opening wasn’t what Murray had hoped for. “I stood here for days and nobody would come. People would come in, but they wanted me to fix their car because this was a car shop before.”
These days, Murray has her regulars, many of whom come in just for the unicorns, which take up a big part of the shop. Unicorn stuffed animals, stickers, toys and figurines adorn the center counter because, simply, Murray loves them.
Nicole Thiessen of Elk City is one of those regulars. She and her two daughters Taytum and Taylee are frequent shoppers at Bazaar on 66.
“We go in at least once a week,” Thiessen said. “There is just an atmosphere to her shop that [we] love. It even has a special smell. She comes to the door to greet every person who walks in. My daughters are in it for the unicorns. Most of the unicorns we have are from her store.”
Murray also has her own items, the odd and weird collectibles, for sale, but they have a higher price. The giant unicorn head that looms over the cash register, she actively tries to talk people out of buying, because she wants to keep him. The massive black cat – easily the size of a young calf – used to climb up the side of her lake house, but now lounges on a ladder from the ceiling.
“That big black cat was fun,” said her mother. “You don’t see things like that every day.”
As the Crowe Flies
Elk City is a quiet town located along Interstate 40 near the western Oklahoma border. With a population of 11,555, it’s home to the National Route 66 Museum and embraces its Mother Road history with growing pride.
Originally called Crowe, the name changed to Busch when the townspeople thought the name would attract Adolphus Busch to put a brewery in the budding city.
Alas, Busch wasn’t impressed enough to build a brewery, so the town officially changed its name to Elk City in 1901, after Indian Chief Elk River who lived in the area years before.
Route 66 cuts through the heart of the western Oklahoma town, and like other small towns along the fabled road, Elk City has seen a resurgence of interest in Route 66. “All communities that have Route 66 through them see an economic impact. The road draws people to the community, and Elk City is one of the places you absolutely must visit if you’ve never been here,” said Cupp.
More than 40,000-60,000 vehicles per day whiz around Elk City along I-40, which was built in 1957 and heralded the end of Route 66’s reign.
Inking the Deal
Murray now loves her adopted town and is still surprised by the visitors who pass through Bazaar on 66.
“Taiwan, Germany, Canada, Italy, Belgium—they come from all over. One couple from Italy was traveling Route 66 for their honeymoon,” said Murray. “That’s when I realized what a special thing Route 66 is.”
Murray wants to do away with the soft-paper guest sign-in book. She has a mannequin torso she wants visitors to sign instead.
“Don’t you think that’ll be fun?” she asked. An odd idea to many, perhaps, but that is just the way that Murray sees the world, and her enthusiasm is contagious.
Melody and Jarrod Murray have since sold their controver- sial lake house and today, the trailer with the giant black cat climbing up the side and the glow of neon signs is just a plain trailer again.
“Most of her stuff is gone,” said her mother. “Melody is capable of doing whatever she puts her mind to. Truthfully, I can’t see any reason for her not doing the shop and being great at it. She has the personality for it.”
Jarrod agrees, “When she decides she wants to do some- thing, she does it to the fullest. It’s one of the most amazing places I’ve seen.”
And to note a point, the property values along 66 haven’t plummeted. The impact of her new boutique seems to be having just the opposite effect on would-be consumers. They are more than enthralled to soak in a little bit of bizarre, at the Bazaar on 66.