SMITHFIELD – Louis Fazzina says he was still in diapers when his love affair with minerals, crystals, and unusual stones began.
The 38-year-old owner of Apple Valley Minerals in Georgiaville talks about his deep interest in all things geologic.
“From a very early age I was fascinated. I grew up in Connecticut, and there were garnets in my backyard,” he said. “As a child I pulled garnets out of the ground and wondered what they were and how they got there.”
When he went to college, he took a different career path. A graduate of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Lou, as he is called, got his degree in computer technology. He said he felt it would offer more security.
“I worked in IT (information technology) for 10 years, but my side hustle was always minerals and such,” he says.
Spreading his arms to symbolically embrace the cabinets, drawers, and tables of his shop, he declares, “this is my true passion in life. I always loved geology and crystal forms. I realized they were made by no human hand,” saying he finds it awe-inspiring.
“Crystals formed before humanity. When you unearth a crystal form from 10 feet below the dirt, you realize you are the first human to ever see that. That’s the buzz. That’s why you want to do it,” he says softly.
There are some 5,000 known minerals throughout the world. Fazzina’s compact emporium at 7 Homestead Ave. is filled to overflowing with samples of various rocks and minerals from just about everywhere. Of course that includes Rhode Island and the New England region.
One might even see intriguing items such as dinosaur footprints graven in stone, calcified clams, and fish fossils.
The abundance of pieces means that despite the extensive labeling and classification of the collection, even Lou sometimes discovers things he doesn’t recall obtaining. The shop itself is something of a hidden gem.
It was established originally by Sal Avella in 1962. Avella was a legend in the rock and mineral hunter community, sharing his knowledge and know-how with many acolytes, including John Rakovan, who Lou explains is a widely renowned mineralogist.
Online, as well as in video presentations and in print, Rakovan, a professor of geology and environmental earth science at Miami University in Ohio and state mineralogist for New Mexico, has cited Avella as an important mentor. Fazzina similarly acknowledges him as such.
When he was still working in IT, Lou’s job brought him to Rhode Island, and soon he was visiting Sal’s store every weekend.
“This was a very famous shop in Rhode Island. It became kind a hub for collectors. Any time I came in, I was a fly on the wall, observing everything, and learning as much as I could,” he notes. After a time he became an assistant to Avella and soaked up more knowledge.
His love of geology and the collecting of specimens took him to various places in the state.
“I’ve found plenty of amazing minerals locally. In Burrillville I found some amazing amethyst crystals,” he says.
As time passed, Lou said he decided that he had to follow his passion for minerals and his geological interests. When Sal Avella died in December 2013, his family wanted to keep his collection intact, if possible. Lou was asked if he had an interest in taking over the shop and its various activities. He did. “So, I bought the shop as my first home,” he relates. That was in 2014.
Since then he has lived in the back part of the building, and he maintains a brisk business at the store while also serving as a catalyst for activities and a source for the various groups in the state involved with rocks, minerals, and related substances.
“The Rhode Island Mineral Hunters Club meets here,” Lou, a board member, says, adding “There’s so much stuff I’m so excited about.”
It comes across in nearly every sentence he utters, as he tells how school children react to his visits, the lectures he gives, the library talks, the tours he leads through the displays, the services he performs assisting the heirs and estates of collectors in evaluating their holdings.
“I even do demonstrations at kids’ birthday parties and other special events,” he says. He pulls out a flashlight and shines its beam at several different rocks on the counter and they light up. They are fluorescent.
Reflecting on the environment provided by the shop with all of its history and near endless samples of the variety and exotic qualities of minerals and crystals, he declares, “I wanted to retain the historic identity. I treat it almost like a museum, a historical place as well as a shop.”
It is just that, too, giving off the feeling of a clubhouse and a bit of living history, and a source of unusual samplings of earth’s unusual substances. A visitor can’t help coming away thinking it is a site more significant than just a commercial enterprise.
Lou describes the three main facets of the business. He buys and sells old collections. He goes to trade shows, and he caters to field collectors, as well as doing some digging himself. He also advises collectors on the value and desirability of their holdings.
“I’m also very proud of the work I do with the libraries and schools,” he said.
When the soon to be released film “Hocus Pocus II” was filming in Rhode Island, the production company rented a whole collection of items from him for the set.
“I was floored when they reached out to us. We’ll have to label them ‘as seen in the movie,’” he said, chuckling.
An encouraging trend is the dramatic increase in popularity of minerals and crystals, he said. There has been a great surge, Fazzina notes, in interest in the metaphysical and esoteric potential in crystals. Healing and energy-releasing properties have been attributed to various types of the objects. There is also a robust market among artists for the sort of things the shop carries.
“I have an amazing network of jewelry artists who need gemstones and specimens,” he said. “I also know just about everybody in Rhode island who deals in minerals.”
In the warmer months, he hosts outdoor shows at the Portuguese American Club in Georgiaville, and he said he is excited about the Rhode Island Mineral Hunters 49th annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show coming up on Oct. 29 and 30 at the Scottish Rite Valley of Providence, 2115 Broad St., Cranston.
He also holds open house at the shop on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is available by appointment. Call 1-860-462-3211.
Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.
(Contact me at email@example.com)