By Vasia Rigou
When it’s in season, Vintage Garage is a regular destination for hundreds of retro fashionistas who gather at the crack of dawn in an unexpected location, where you wouldn’t normally expect to find a vintage market. Once there, they take something old and make it new again. Vintage Garage is not your typical flea market or secondhand store. There’s a good balance between handcrafted and vintage items to things you’d likely find in your grandmother’s attic. It’s an eclectic mix of all things vintage, from clothing to jewelry to classic LPs and forty-fives to old Playboys to furniture and everything in between. Sands invites vendors to literally drive right in and fill three garage levels by setting up a shop in front of their vehicles.
The drive-in living museum spans all varieties from the 1930s to the 1980s, blending different themes and subcultures. As the market enters its fifth year, there are now more than a hundred vendors who take over the parking garage every third Sunday of every month through October. The rotating vendors keep it interesting and the themes set the tone of the day. This year, there’ll be a May Mid-Century Modern theme, followed by a special-edition Father’s Day record sale with dealers bringing in vinyl, stereo and musical gear, a Retro Chicago day and a Rockabilly/Tiki theme: think pompadours, hula girls and Mai Tai mugs.
The ever-changing, vibrant market has a little something for everyone. “The challenge of curating a show like that is not that hard, because the people who understand our vibe are the ones who come and the ones who sell and the ones who apply,” says Sands, who has been part of the buying and selling vintage culture for as long as she can remember. “Collecting cookie jars or depression glass, you know, that day is gone,” she says. “People are buying vintage today to use it and wear it and the beauty of it is that, if you take good care of it, it holds its value and that’s more than you can say for anything else out there today,” she adds. “I really feel like the future of vintage is seeing the quality that’s there for the price and knowing that you can get solid wood pieces of furniture for the price that you can buy particle-board garbage from other places.”
“Things have changed a lot since I started in this business eighteen years ago,” she says. “The difference is the baby boomers have retired and millennials are our biggest working group in America so those are our customers now. Buying vintage for them is a different animal than it was twenty years ago: more wearable, usable, decorative.”
Sands, who shops pretty much anywhere—estate sales, garage sales, vintage markets, antique shops—has an “eye” for the work. “My biggest tip is buy what you love, buy the best quality you can afford and keep things in good condition,” she says. “Don’t buy things because you think you’re going to save them and make a million dollars later.”
Sands blames serendipity for putting vintage in a parking garage. ”I happened to meet the gentleman who owns it and that sparked the idea,” she says. “My favorite thing about it is seeing people so happy and seeing people find things that they absolutely love. And the fact that we’re covered—we’ve had shows where it absolutely poured outside and we’ve been packed inside and happy and people shopped.”
Every third Sunday through October at 5051 North Broadway (between Argyle and Foster). See vintagegaragechicago.com for dates and themes, 10am-5pm, $5.