Chris Davila, owner of Serpent's Edge in downtown Houlton shows a Damascus steel knife in his shop. Credit: Kathleen Phalen Thomaselli / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Betty, an albino boa constrictor is curled up in a cozy corner of her aquarium in the Serpent’s Edge weaponry shop in downtown Houlton. And as the shop’s owner talks to a customer about a cutlass — a saber or slashing sword like in Pirates of the Caribbean — Betty is barely visible.

“She had a big meal a few days ago,” said shop owner, Chris Davila, 34, who owns 50 large snakes, mostly boas and a few pythons.

Davila’s shop evolved from a weaponry collection he started as a teen. He began selling at gun shows and reptile shows for several years before opening his shop earlier this year in Houlton.

“I love collecting all sorts of weaponry and I had so much of it, the only logical thing to do was to start selling so I could buy more,” he said, laughing. “It’s a bit of an addiction.”

The Serpent’s Edge is one of several offbeat shops that have opened on Market Square in the past year. There’s a crystal and gem shop, a medieval gaming shop restaurant and dinner theater, a yoga and tea shop and a boutique pet store that sells interesting reptiles like bearded dragons.

Chris Davila, owner of Serpent’s Edge in downtown Houlton removes the sheath from a Katana sword in his shop. Credit: Kathleen Phalen Thomaselli / Houlton Pioneer Times

Davila used to make knives and other bladed implements like axes and tomahawks and he is slowly gathering items to start doing that again. Still, to do it right takes a several-thousand-dollar investment and it may take him a while to put it together, he said.

For now, he offers blade sharpening and light restoration, he said.  

Davila deals in beautifully-patterned Damascus steel-bladed daggers, bowie knives, swords, whale knives and others for hunting and skinning large game, as well as show pieces for collectors. But show pieces for collectors and medieval weapons for cosplay are also popular.

At first he refused to carry many of the flimsy show pieces, but discovered that at many cosplay conventions like ComicCon and Renaissance Fairs the steel blades are banned. If a customer requests it, he will carry the polyurethane or foam reproductions.

Maine allows people to own most types of knives and bladed instruments, but there are strict laws about concealing certain types of knives like a bowie knife, Davila said. If the knife is visible on a belt, for example, that is fine, but if it is covered by a coat, it is considered a concealed weapon, he said.

He admits he takes every precaution and tells patrons to check on the laws.

He is most drawn to beauty and functionality, he said.

An hour with Davila is like getting a crash course in how blades are made, what they are used for and their ancient history. He explains how the Damascus Steel wavy-patterned blades are made by heating and folding the steel, sharing some of the ancient history. Davila said today many try to replicate it by laser etching the steel but it is not the same.  

Historians claim that Vikings and Samurai used Damascus Steel in their swords.

The shop displays several different swords like the Japanese-style sword popular in the 1500s, with 20- to 30-inch blades, often used in martial arts.

“A couple swords I carry are used in cutting competitions; they are actually used for slicing mats in the air,” he said, while showing the curved blade.

Some of the martial arts swords displayed in the Serpent’s Edge in downtown Houlton. Credit: Kathleen Phalen Thomaselli / Houlton Pioneer Times

Davila often gets requests for unusual bladed weaponry like a Naginata, a Japanese blade on a six-foot pole, he said, adding he is looking for one now for a customer.

Born in Queens, New York, Davila grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley and moved to Oakfield with his grandparents and parents in 2017. The family purchased a home with 111 acres for about $170, 000.

“When we were  looking in New York, a 30-acre lot with a small house was $375,000 and the taxes were four times as high,” he said.

Living in The County was a big change for the family, he said, pointing out a lack of ethnic diversity. He said he lived here several years before he met another Latino.

Since moving here, Davila’s grandparents have died and he now cares for his disabled parents.

As he grows his business Davila is adding art, mostly of nature and the macabre, from artists in California and Colorado. But he said he also hopes to include local artists.

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...