On the Road – Las Vegas 2

Saturday was a new record for me. 20 thrift shops in a day. In Las Vegas, they’re mostly grocery store sized, so where I’m used to a half dozen racks of men’s stuff, these came through with aisle after aisle. Hundreds of suits and jackets all in one place, shirts as far as the eye can see, and decent prices for the large part. I realize Las Vegas is a relatively new town with a transient population, but I hoped it would be a numbers game- 20 shops, thousands of things at each of them, bound to be some vintage in there somewhere. It turned out I was half right. There was no shortage of early ’60s overcoats, tweeds, plaid cotton, largely small collared, fly fronted and raglan sleeved. One or two in nearly every store. Unfortunately, many were stained or moth damaged, and most of the stores were asking $20-$30 for them. This may not seem like much, but the current overcoat market is bad. I could put one of those in the eBay store at $10 and it would probably go unsold for a year. The local vintage shops won’t touch them at any price. Usually it stands that where there is one piece of vintage, more are lurking, waiting to be found. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, and my entire sellable haul from the day’s thrifting was a single necktie, which goodwill had priced at $4, about eight times what I’m used to paying for thrift shop ties.
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After picking Alex up from the photo conference, we met up with Jason T. Smith, star of Spike TV’s “Thrift Hunters”, “Thrifty Business with Jay and Nay”, “Thrifting With the Boys”, etc. at Frankie’s Tiki Room. I compared my experience with my aborted vintage-picking TV show with his two seasons in reality TV, we talked the state of thrifting, eBay sales and how people like us have ruined thrifting for everyone by divulging its mysterious ways. You couldn’t hope to meet nicer people than he and his wife.
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So far, the haul stands at a ’40s English summer suit, a turn of the century sack suit, Hollyvogue tie, vintage Notre Dame Athletics shirt, pair of vintage eyeglasses and a vintage patch.
We made it into Salt Lake City last night only to find we’re due to catch the edge of a potentially 3 foot snowfall. We’ll try to keep it brief here and head west before things hit.

On the Road- Las Vegas 1

By the time we had reached West Yellowstone, the sun had set, temperatures plummeted and it started to snow heavily. We spent two hours white knuckled, through Yellowstone National Park and Targhee National Forest, crawling along in near whiteout conditions with only the tail-lights of a semi to guide us. We pulled in late at the first motel we could find, on the outskirts of Idaho Falls. The motel was the kind we strive to avoid, with crippling stains on the bed and towels. The mattress, pillows and carpet were steeped in decades of nicotine and the heater had given up on life. We spent the night in every piece of clothing we had packed, shivering, and woke up stiff, bloodshot and exhausted.

Snowcovered fields gave way to green and eventually to the stunning red rocks of Arizona. The cold of our previous night was replaced by baking heat and an equally broken air conditioner in our car. Windows down is fine in town, but at 85mph on the highway, the wind is almost as unbearable as the sweat.

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But, after 850 miles of solid driving, we made it. Our hotel doesn’t have free wi-fi (go downstairs, smoke! gamble! drink!) and the pool outside our window is in the process of being jackhammered out. So out into the city! While Alex is at a photography conference, seeing her photographic heroes- I venture out! To the shops!

On paper, there are some 75+ antique, vintage and thrift stores in town. Before leaving, I had plotted them all out with one of those route-planning algorithms developed based on the flight patterns of bees. But with no internet, no printer, and my PDF having converted all my addresses to GPS coordinates, so far I’ve had to wing it. Las Vegas’s antique stores are nearly all clustered in roughly four blocks of the old section of downtown. Left to my own devices, I go into picker mode. Vintage clothes? Vintage clothes? Vintage clothes? No- none here- on to the next store. 5 minutes and done, sticking out like a sore thumb. Dealer. Not from here.

There are a surprising number of vintage clothing boots here in Las Vegas, but dealing mostly in 1970s cheese. Polyester used car dealer jacket? Leisure suit? Three mile thick paisley necktie? You got it, buddy. The older clothes are thin on the ground, but either there’s no market, or they’re out of the dealer’s comfort zone, so I was able to pick up a couple of gems at otherwise outrageously priced places. Along the way, I ran into the star of the reality TV show, “Thrift Hunters”, and unsurprisingly in this strange vintage world we inhabit, we had friends in common. We’ll be meeting up for drinks at one of the local tiki bars- more on that later. Tomorrow should be my big thrift day, but after the couple I hit yesterday and the day before, I don’t have high hopes. They’re around in abundance, and are the enormous Goodwill-type shops, so no shortage of things to go through. But so far what I’ve been seeing is mostly very low-end suits from the 1990s, stained rental tuxes and novelty print neckties. It could be a numbers game- dig through a few thousand and maybe something will have fallen through the cracks.

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Stay tuned, more to come over the course of the next week as we finish up in Nevada and work our way through a few more states.

On The Road – Red Lodge

Last week, we headed off to Big Timber, about an hour west of here. It’s always been a quick stop on the way to other places, and I’ve never had it as a destination; never really spent a lot of time there. We found a large antique store on the outskirts of town we’d never been to before- “Country Crossroads”, with a sign saying “gifts and crafts” and a front parking lot full of wrought iron patio furniture. It looked like the kind of place we generally pass up, the type of place which deals in scented candles, reproductions and those tack-welded metal letters you see everywhere now. But we were determined to really do Big Timber this time around, so we stopped. Not a craft or gift-shop tchotchke in sight. All good vintage and antiques, all organized by type, size and color. It killed me to pass on a set of large Halliburton aluminum cases, but with the big trip coming up, the less large things like that I buy, the less I have to put into storage.
We swung through Livingston on the way back home, hitting and striking out at my favorite thrift shops. While Alex was out getting some more shots for an upcoming photo series. I popped into Mountain West Mercantile, to visit with its owner and my friend, Tamara Mason. After some shop talk, she showed me a couple of western suits that had just come into her shop. Oddly, the market for that style is much stronger in Europe than it is in the US. It’s easier for me to sell them online to someone in the UK or Germany than it is for her to sell that particular shade of vintage westernwear at a shop specializing in vintage westernwear in the American west. The vintage market is bizarre sometimes. I somehow left a pair of pants from one of the suits behind in the shuffle and in a typically Montana act, she drove over the mountain the next day to hand deliver them. Again, I can’t recommend her store enough- if you’re here, you have to stop.

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Yesterday’s trip was to Red Lodge, MT. Red Lodge boomed in the early part of the century following a coal strike in the 1890s. The mines largely closed during the depression. Tourism bolstered the town’s economy in the 1930s following the construction of the Beartooth Highway and it now straddles the fine line between upscale ski-town and down on its luck Montana mining town. The “antique mall” in town turned out to be a relatively small storefront shop dealing in old-west reproductions and rifles, and the thrift shop inside a senior center, while clean and organized, didn’t have much stock older than the 1990s. The antique shop and thrift shop on the way back, in Columbus, Montana were both closed in that typically small town way that makes you wonder if it means closed for the day or closed for good. So 300-some miles on the car and a tank and a half of gas and nothing for the shop to show for it.

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But, as you can see, an interesting town. We were struck by the herds of deer and especially by the dozens of wild turkeys roaming the downtown. Deer on the steps of the courthouse. Turkeys at city hall!

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On the Road: Livingston, Montana

Alex and I took an impromptu, “hey want to go to Livingston in ten minutes?” trip this morning a half hour east of here. Livingston’s an interesting town, a mix of worn wrangler jeans and patagonia fleeces, cowboy bars and high end flyfishing shops.

Time ran short, so we had to skip my favorite thrift shop by the railroad tracks, but we managed to hit a thrift shop, two antique stores, and a secondhand shop. I walked out emptyhanded from the thrift shop for the first time- they had a fair number of early ’60s sportcoats and orphaned suit jackets, but have raised their prices since last I was there, and the online market on late ’50s-early ’60s tweed is below even thrift shop prices. The secondhand store had a lot of things I was *this* close to buying, ’50s fleck, ’40s overcoats, a couple ’50s hats, at reasonable prices, but again, all were the kind of thing that I like, but which the market right now is pretty iffy on and didn’t want to risk. Most of those have been there for the two years I’ve been going, so if things pick back up, or if any of you pass through Livingston, they’ll probably be there.

A little over a month ago, I got an invitation from Tamara Mason, owner of the Mountain West Mercantile to drop by the shop and introduce myself and to chat about vintage. I’ve been in a half dozen or so times since I moved out this way, but still have a hesitation about coming out to shopowners as a fellow dealer. We’re a small community, and nearly everyone I’ve run into or talked to has been incredibly supportive, friendly and helpful, but I still feel like I’m on their turf or somehow in competition. So it was a great feeling to get the invite for Tamara and to get to go geek out. Unsurprisingly, it turned out that we know, or know of a lot of the same people in the business. We commiserated about the difficulty in finding golden era vintage and the changing market. She pulled out some real gems for me to see from the back, and I made some exciting finds. As I’m sure you all know, I’m a fan of the vintage westernwear, and this is the most I’ve seen in one place. A real treasure trove of peak lapel gabardine suits, ranch jacs and vintage hats. If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s a must stop- jam packed with high quality, real vintage from the era we like. It’s at 205 S. Main Street, Livingston, MT

So the finds for the day- a Dobbs Golden Coach thirty, a Stetson Gun Club, a late ’40s Bouldercord suit and a ’50s Miller suit.

On the Road – September 18 and 19

This week, Alex and I did as the song says, and headed west, young man. She’s been working on a photo series in Anaconda, Montana, and I came along to do what I thought would be a bit of casual vintage hunting on the way there and back. I had made a similar loop about two months ago with good results and didn’t expect to find more than beautiful scenery and a good time.   photo blog us.jpg

What a treat to have a blue, big sky country type of day for an outing. Last week was in the 90s, the week before was pouring rain, and the one before that there was smoke from forest fires so thick you could barely see a block in front of you. It’s just starting to be fall here, with shocks of yellow mixed into the pine forests and fresh show on the mountain peaks. Perfect weather for tweed jackets and windows down driving through the mountains.
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As always, there were a lot of interesting things along the way that I didn’t buy.  Every trip and every shop always seems to have a particular thing that shows up in unusual numbers.  This time it was pile lined tweed coats from the 1970s. It killed me to pass on the bow ties in the bottom right corner, probably a hundred of them, mostly from the 1970s, but with a couple 1940s and 1950s ones mixed in.  But as low as the asking price of ten bucks a pop is, with the amount of work that goes into photographing and listing them, and with their era, it’s just too much for someone in my position.
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On the hunt- photos by Alex DeLong. Montana is a goldmine for vintage ties.  Usually I’m finding them in thrift shops in small clusters, but every now and again I find a big cache tucked away somewhere. Well, to be more accurate, Alex found this cache, a big crate of ties, high up on a shelf in a back room I’ve never seen open before. It took a lot of sorting through, weeding out the ones that were too damaged, too new, too thin and too plain.  I ended up with about half of the ones in that pile, and found quite a few more in various thrift and secondhand stores.
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Photos by Alex DeLong.  Anaconda and Basin Montana. Basin’s been in decline since the mid 1920s. Where there were once thousands of residents, there are now 255. Bits and pieces from its mining glory days of the early 1900s still remain, mixed in with abandoned cars from the 1940s-1970s. In short, our kind of town.
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The Haul: Two 1940s fedoras, a Biltmore fedora, a MA-1 flight jacket, sheepskin ranch vest, two work jackets, a B-9 Parka, nearly 70 vintage neckties, a 1930s suit jacket, an early 1950s suit jacket, a 1960s tweed jacket, a 1940s overcoat, an early 1960s suit and a handfull of odds and ends.  Keep an eye out over the next couple of days as I get it photographed and listed.  Yet another good couple of days out on the road!

Until next trip,
Spencer
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