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.

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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 in Billings, MT

One of the most common questions I get, right after, “how did you get into all this?”, is “where do you find all your stuff?”. It’s one of those questions that can be hard to answer. “Oh, you know, here and there” usually suffices and avoids the long story.  But the truth is, I drive a lot.

This weekend was a casual overnight excursion to Billings, Montana. For those of you not familiar with the area, the drive from Bozeman to Billings is just under 150 miles, and usually I make it as a day trip. So that’s a 300 mile round trip, hours on the road and a tank of gas, for the hope that maybe, just maybe, there will be some old ties or a couple of vintage hats waiting to be found. There are no guarantees in this business.

But I’ve had good luck in Billings in the past. There are a number of antique shops, thrift stores, secondhand stores and the like, and I usually get lucky at at least one or two.  This past weekend, one of the larger antique malls was having an outdoor antique fair, with its craigslist ad touting 70 vendors.  It was enough to hopefully tip the odds in my favor.

My girlfriend, Alex, and I drove out Friday night so that we could get an early start so we could be back in Bozeman before the sun started to set. We stayed at a charming 1950s motor court, the Dude Rancher Lodge. Neon, knotty pine and exposed beam ceilings combined with recent western themed carpets and brand wall hangings courtesy an appearance on “Hotel Impossible” several years ago, made for a charming place to stay. Full of character, it was way more fun than a chain motel, and just the right kind of place for vintage people like us.

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We made it to the fair a little later than we had hoped, it turned out that in Billings on a Saturday morning, everyone goes out for breakfast, and lined stretched out the door of everyplace good or interesting. I went against every fiber of my being and went to the practically deserted Denny’s for a generic breakfast. I think that might have cancelled out the “shop local” cred the Dude Rancher got me. Oh well.  There was a lot of re-purposed, re-painted, hand-made, shabby chic type of antiques at the fair, but also a few gems to be had. Afterward, we hit up the aforementioned antique shops in downtown Billings and a few of the thrifts. Here are a few of the neat things I spotted, but didn’t buy.  It seemed like I was tripping over vintage hats and vintage neckties at every step, but I have to be selective.  The market is really down on the more mundane patterns of 1940s ties, so even at the reasonable $6 a piece that one vendor was asking, there’s no way for me to make any money from that, so I let probably 30-some of them sit. Same with hats- below a certain size or a certain brim length, there’s such limited demand.
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Things survive in Billings. It’s a good town for lovers of vintage. Neon signs, ghost signs, architecture.
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After a long day of hunting, I managed to find a good sized cache of vintage hats, most of which were originally sold within a few miles of where I found them. But for me, the real treat was that leather jacket.  They’re all over the internet, but it’s getting harder and harder to find “out in the wild”. And this one’s a real beauty. Great patina and a rare model.  I’d love to know who wore it some 60 odd years ago, but I can say that it’s pretty likely they rode a Harley in Billings.
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Here’s the full haul all cleaned up and photographed. For those of you who are interested, you can check out the whole batch HERE
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