Student runs business while finishing his last year at UNL

Story and video by Kelsey Connelly, NewsNetNebraska

Tobias Burhnam didn’t wait until after graduation day to make his dreams a reality.

Along with completing his undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, for the last two years he has spent his Fridays and Saturdays running his shop, Hunter Gatherer, in downtown Lincoln, Neb.

Hunter Gatherer is only  500 square feet, but the store is filled with rare items. The walls are covered with pinned butterflies and bats, mounted plants and anatomical prints. The tables display collections of minerals, cacti, ferns and homemade soaps. Glass globes holding air plants hang from the ceiling and the shelves display teeth moldings, jars of preserved animals and various taxidermy items.

“I don’t want to consider my shop an oddity shop,” Burnham said. “I like to call it a collection of nature’s design, without sounding too pretentious.”

Items displayed in Hunter Gatherer are donated, traded, hand-made by Burnham or purchased from vendors, but many throughout the shop are part of his personal nature-based collection that started when he was much younger.

A hand-pinned butterfly by Tobias Burnham.

A hand-pinned butterfly by Tobias Burnham.

“I was 9 or 10 when I went on a trip to the coast with my mom and I got a shark jaw,” he said. “That’s what kind of prompted me to start this weird collection.”

After years of searching through nature and thrift stores, Burnham decided to open Hunter Gatherer in 2012 and share his findings with others.

“That’s the best thing about owning this place,” he said. “It helps me justify collecting and hoarding all of this stuff.”

Willa Tharnish, a close friend of Burnham’s, said that he is constantly searching for new items to add to his growing assortment at Hunter Gatherer.

“He has a magnetic personality, so not only is he always looking for new things, new things are finding him,” she said.

Burnham strives to establish a rejuvenating atmosphere in Hunter Gatherer through various items from nature. He also aims to maintain an element of design throughout the store, which Tharnish said makes his shop one-of-a-kind.

“Toby has always had an excellent sense of uniqueness and style, and I think that he is able to show that through his shop,” she said. “And that’s what really sets his business apart from other stores.”


While Burnham hopes to one day move to a larger space and expand the Hunter Gatherer collection by adding a greenhouse and apothecary section, for now he is focusing on finishing his last year at UNL.

“I want to put so much more energy into the business that I just don’t have enough time for, especially since it’s my last semester and I’m working on my thesis,” Burnham said. “As much as I don’t like to, a lot of times I have to put Hunter Gatherer on the back burner.”

Hunter Gatherer has grown over the past two years and established a large following, which Burnham stresses is not the most important aspect of owning the store.

“Hunter Gatherer is not just about people buying things,” he said. “It’s about creating an experience for people.”


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