To understand my love affair with all things old, I often reflect back to my youth to grasp a better understanding of why I just can’t pass up junk pile or thrift store in my adult life. I was raised in Oregon, which if you have visited you know is not only a unique slice of America, but uniquely odd in many ways. I was born in a small town on the Oregon/California border named Lakeview and spent 6 years of my life on a farm running wild among acres of fields, and helping my dad tend to the goats, chickens and horses we had roaming about. I was a curious child that often played solo and was able to entertain myself for hours building forts out of hay bales, fishing in the ponds, and riding my big wheel as far down the gravel road as my mom would allow. When my mom got bored, we would drive into Klamath Falls about 90 miles away to shop at K-Mart. I loved the coin operated rides in front and would often fight my brother for first ride on the mini helicopter. My mom eventually got a job in town and would drop us off with a sitter. I vividly remember her 70’s house decorated with green shag carpet, wood paneled walls and the ever popular mustard colored appliances. She had a plaid sofa and macrame owls a plenty adorning the wood walls. Days were spent learning how to master roller skating on the sidewalk with afternoons filled with Mr. Rogers and Electric Company. When my grandmother passed away in 1980, my dad decided it was time to sell the farm and move to Portland. We packed up, livestock and all and made the move to the big city. Portland now has a reputation as being a weird place, and the people like it that way. The Portland I know now is vastly different from the one I grew up in, yet I still feel incredibly lucky being able to experience what it used to be like before it became so damn popular.
Life resumed at my grandmas house which was a 40’s 2 bedroom 1 bath cottage. It was as vintage as you could get and all original inside. It had a certain smell that was completely homey and cozy. We overlooked the Willamette river and had a double lot with a rose garden and two car garage. My crazy great aunt lived on the street below us in an 1800’s cottage that was equally authentically vintage and untouched. A rock wall and stone steps separated our street and backyard from hers. Our neighborhood was a mix at the time. The wealthy yuppies were moving in as the area was close to downtown and had picturesque view. Then you had the old school residents who had lived there since the neighborhood was built. My dad grew up in that house and knew everyone. When my parents divorced in 1984, lots changed. My brother and I became latch key kids because my dad took a job as a truck driver and my mom was busy working full time to support herself and us. We split our time between two households and often were without parental supervision on most days until late in the evening. My mom was an avid thrifter both out of necessity and for the thrill of the treasure hunt. I recall spending weekends at the Goodwill Outlet in South East Portland rummaging through bins of clothing and household goods trying to find the necessities we needed for whatever season it was. Winter was electric blanket season. My mom would find a blanket in a bin that wasn’t too grimy and throw it in the cart. She would then send me on the task of finding the controls to the blanket and I would come back with several models until we found the right end to mate into the blanket, making it a score. I learned early that people often donate electronics for a reason and that’s because they are busted in some way. The very same “score!” of a blanket started sparking in the middle of the night when was about 7 causing me to think I was dreaming until it left burn on my skin. Mom was a little more careful about the blankets she scrounged after that, but it never deterred her from going to the bins.
My grade school was in a very wealthy area and somehow my mom snuck us in there with a falsified address. I was a total fish out of water coming to first grade fresh off a farm dressed head to toe in western gear. I quickly learned that in order to be someone at that school you must own at least 4 pairs of stirrup pants, a Swatch Watch and anything that said Esprit. In attempt to integrate me into this new culture my mom found some stirrup pants and a knock off Swatch at Salvation Army. This did nothing for my status and only caused the preppy kids to ridicule me more. Aside from all of the teasing, the school was very good. My teacher recognized my creative side and had me try out for the Talented and Gifted program. I didn’t know what it was, but when it was explained to me that I could leave school and draw for hours and hours off the school grounds 2 days a week I was sold. I remember finding peace in being with other kids like me in a creative environment where I could really express myself.
Our school was across the street from a church that held a giant rummage sale every year. I remember it as one of the highlights of my grade school youth. My mom would send me to school with 5 dollars and they would let us out of class to attend the sale with strict rules that we could only be there for an hour. I usually was there for 2, and was well aware that I would get written up but never cared. This was two whole floors teeming with junk and an hour just wouldn’t work for me at the tender age of 9, so I took my time. I remember finding items that I deemed treasures, such as a crystal candy jar still filled with candy orange slices, that I negotiated for .10 cents. Books and gold lipstick tubes from the 50’s were also part of my stash. I never left without getting my mom a potted yellow Mum that they sold every year for $3. Even more of a reason to put on my poker face and talk those church ladies down as my 5 dollars had now become 2, and I spent it well.
After grade school my mom tried to stick us in another uppity middle school that I suffered through 6 whole months before I couldn’t take the teasing and isolation anymore. I talked my mom into letting me go to the school in her district that had kids in my neighborhood, and also was where my friend Amy went. I immediately remember walking into the school and it having the same welcoming feeling as my grandmas house. I liked it instantly and made more friends than I had ever had my entire life. My mom eventually got remarried and I gained a step brother and step sister who happened to be my same age. She was more reserved than me, but I could talk her into running amok in the neighborhood with me and hitting garage sales on the neighboring streets on the weekends. At first she wasn’t thrilled with the idea of buying other peoples used stuff, but I made her a believer when we found an antique shopping cart and tanning lamp. I convinced her the cart would make a perfect baby buggy for our cat, and with the tanning lamp, we coud finally get boys to notice us because of our glowing complexion. She agreed and we wheeled our treasures home and holed up in our shared room to get our tan on. Being that we were 6th graders and she was Irish we didn’t quite predict the outcome of a cherry red sunburn she got only from the neck up. I remember dusting her face with a giant powder puff and Jean Nate powder (also a garage sale find,) and covering up the redness so our parents would catch on and punish us. This backfired and our garage sale finds were confiscated as a result. It was a temporary setback, as we only had to tell our folks we were going on a walk on the weekends, while we secretly hit sales and hid our finds under our clothes.
A year or so later we convinced my mom to let us convert our garage into a party room. She took us out thrifting and we picked up a carpet, record player, some chairs and a sweet popcorn machine to complete the look. It wasn’t the only room that I made over. I became obsessed with creating new spaces in my house. My bedroom was the next on the list. I spent the weekend painting it (mauve of course) and making balloon curtains out of salvaged fabric, and matching pillows for my daybed. I also found an old trunk at Salvation army with chipped white paint and an upholstered top, which I re did in cabbage rose material also purchased at the salvation army to tie my whole look together. It was as close to heaven as I coud get and my room became my sanctuary. My friends would invite me over for a consultation and then after convincing their parents we would make over their rooms too. All in all I did 6 in 6 months, all in different style and all from thrifted items. I recall finding an old chair and painstakingly removing the paint, then whitewashing it and stenciling flowers on it as the piece de resistance for my best friends room. I gave it to her as a gift after she admired a similar one in a local furniture shop.
When high school rolled around I was somewhat of a thrifting pro. Guess jeans were all the rage and my mom tipped me off that Value Village (now Savers) had rows and rows I just needed to get there to find my size. I had reached a point in my life where I loved thrifting but was terrified of anyone seeing me in a second hand store. My mom tried to reason with me by saying if someone sees you there that means they are there too, but that kind of logic never worked on my teenage brain. I eventually could not stop thinking about the rows of gently used guess jeans that awaited me and hatched a plan to go to the thrifts in deep disguise. This involved me going through my moms closet and putting on her denim maxi skirt, cashmere turtleneck sweater and wool floppy hat and oversize square sunglasses. Of course I had to wear heels and red lipstick too, just to throw off any sneaky suspicious classmates. Somehow I convinced my friend Melanie to dress up and go with, enticing her with all of the cool jeans we would find. My mom drove us there and went inside while we waited in the front seat. She was the “spotter” and it was her job to patrol the thrift shop to see if anyone “our age” was in there. She went in and came to the front window a few minutes later flashing us the thumbs up sign, code for the coast is clear. Mel and I made a mad dash inside and starting tearing through the racks in search of zippered ankle gold. I stumbled upon a black pair of guess jeans minutes later, then the coveted pair of overalls after that. Melanie managed to find a pair of Palmetto’s in her size and was happy that she came along.
When I got my drivers license a year later the thrifting floodgates opened for me. I no longer cared about running into people in my hood because I could drive across town and hit the thrifts on the east side. For me it was total and complete freedom. I would drive through hill and dale hitting thrifts I never knew existed. I would find old prom dresses, and things that amused me and would buy the things I coud afford. This carried into college and I was thrilled to move out of my parents house into my fist apartment which of course was decorated entirely with thrifted finds.
The years that followed took me to Hawaii when I transferred schools and I remember continuing to furnish my spaces with eclectic finds from the local thrifts. Hawaii had some really cool vintage back then, I used to find old school tiki lamps, and the most amazing aloha dresses and shirts.
When I moved back to the mainland in 1998, I was working for Northwest Airlines as a flight attendant and had dropped out of school, much to my moms dismay. I went to see her on a block of off days and I remember her showing me a website called Ebay. There wasn’t a lot on the site that interested me until I stumbled upon the vintage items. I remember sitting there for hours with my mom as the pictures slowly loaded and we could see what bidding prices were on these amazing items. I was pretty amazed that there was actually an online site that was selling what I had been buying for years. I made a mental note and forgot about the site for a few years while I was busy traveling the world. I ended up in New York City with the airlines and shared a crashpad with 7 other flight attendants on the Upper East Side. It was fun while it lasted but I quickly outgrew communal living and found cheap studio in Harlem that I could afford on my very own. I painted my walls a dusty green and conned my neighbor into hauling a 7 foot sofa up 5 flights of stairs for a case of beer. It was a 40’s art deco couch that I scored in Newark at the Union Gospel Mission. Every inch of my hardwood studio was decked out in 40’s glam with eclectic art and black and white checkered floors in the kitchen. I eventually started dating someone who lived in the financial district, and was spending more and more time at his place. When my lease was up, we packed up my art deco metropolis and I moved everything but the couch down to the financial district subway trip by subway trip. We lived a quiet life there and on September 10, 2001 I had a trip to Detroit that was supposed to be a quick turn (there and back same day) Due to weather we ended up overnighting there and we weren’t due out until the afternoon of the 11th. You can probably all fill in the blanks for the turn if events that happened after that. Charlie my boyfriend called me early that morning looking for my car keys. He said my car was parked on he wrong side and I would get a ticket from the NYPD. He then mentioned that there was a ticker tape parade outside because he kept seeing confetti out the window and heard loud booms like fireworks. That was the last time I talked to him for 2 days when he showed up at my hotel in Detroit barefoot with our two dogs as he had managed to get the last rental car out of Brooklyn after he walked all the way over the bridge carrying our dogs as he had fled on foot after they wouldn’t let anyone else into our building.
We made the decision to head to south Florida that very day in the rental car because his folks were from there and we needed a place to live. In hindsight I didn’t really think much about this life change, I was scared and everything was crazy, so I just went with it. I thought Florida couldn’t be that much different from Hawaii, and justified that living there would be like paradise. Charlie and I eventually settled in in West Palm Beach, in the historic district of Northwood. Our house was a 40’s cottage with original hardwoods and a spacious yard. I was unemployed and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I took some time off to get to know the area better. As we had a house to decorate it wasn’t long before I was hitting the thrifts with a vengeance and filling up our cottage with cute eccentric decor on the cheap. I remember seeing things that didn’t fit into our house, but that I just couldn’t pass up, and those things eventually making there way to closets and the garage until I coud figure out what to do with them. Charlie had a sweet desktop computer and we had internet which I mainly used to email my friends and family. I remember looking online at the sire I had seen 2 years prior to see what was new. Ebay had grown quite a bit by then and I decided that night to try my hand at selling some stuff. I was amazed when 7 days later my auctions all had multiple bids and I was making a profit. I was instantly hooked and started to list like crazy. I taught myself basic HTML and got a photo hosting site, and basic editor software for my photos. A local sewing shop sold me their old mannequin and my vintage business was officially born. I remember the early good old days of Ebay. When sellers coud leave negative, neutral and positive feedback for buyers and Paypal was not the only way to pay. Yep, I used to accept cash, checks and money orders too. My sales were off the charts and I spent every minute of the day building my business. I was isolating myself and my relationship suffered as a result. Other than the thrifts I wasn’t finding much about West Palm that I truly liked and it was difficult making friends. Charlie and I eventually split up and he took his sweet computer with him. I was official on my own and decided to get a job to take my mind off of my sadness. I found another cute vintage apartment and decorated it totally mid century modern, with authentic pieces I had thrifted from around town. I still continued to sell on Ebay part time and eventually started flying again. As Ebay changed I adapted, but it was never the same as those early days and I felt like I was chasing a memory of what was. In 2006, I started selling again full time when I discovered I was pregnant. After I had my daughter I was determined to lose the baby weight and had long since sold my mannequin, so I decided to be my own model and have my daughter’s father take pictures of me in my vintage clothing and occasionally I could talk my friends from my moms group into partaking in the fun. The eventual demise of that relationship put my vintage business into hiatus again this time for many more years. I was still thrifting and collecting vintage and decorating my spaces with thrift store finds, but I had given up on selling until I decided to give Etsy a try in 2015.
That pretty much brings me to today. Since I started selling again I expanded my store to include all vintage and not just clothing. I took a huge leap of faith in 2016 and opened up a brick and mortar shop. It was a dream of mine and my moms for many many years and when it came to fruition I was incredibly excited. Unfortunately, I had a rotten landlord and equally awful neighbors and I made the decision to close my shop after my landlord vandalized my vintage property and started entering the shop after hours stealing stuff. I immediately thought if relocating my shop and almost signed 2 leases since, but part of me just can’t commit to taking that plunge again, so I continue to run my online shop and build my business from the safety and comfort (and rent free) of my own home. I drive by for rent signs, and sometimes call, and wonder what if, but something inside stops me. I don’t know if its fear or the thought of putting my all into a business and having that ball and chain around my neck again.. Everything in life is timing, and maybe again someday when the time is right.. I say
So that brings me back to this crazy long blog and my lifelong obsession with all things from the past. Maybe I’m an old soul who has lived before, in one of these time periods that I so love. My Etsy tag line says I don’t find Vintage, Vintage finds me, and its true. I can think of something and find it that day, or days later. Someone can tell me they are looking for a particular item and all of a sudden I find it. I think this is what I am meant to do in some way shape and form and when I analyze my own history it seems clear to me that vintage has always been and will always be a part of my life. I truly consider myself an OG in the thrift game, a title well earned.
I’ll be back net week with some more tales from the thrift side, that won’t be as long winded as this novel.. Maybe