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Arts & Culture

Traveling Vintage: Boutique on Wheels Opens in Connecticut

Jillian Lyons


At the Hamden Farmers Market, the Vintanthromobile sticks out like a brightly colored sore thumb among food trucks and produce stands. Owner Melissa Gonzales has been collecting vintage clothing since preteen years.
"My own personal style tends to be more unique and colorful than things I can find off a rack in a store," she said.
"When I figured that I could actually buy things that didn't fit me that were vintage to sell, I got pretty excited because then the entire world opened up." 
On break from Ridgefield Elementary School where she teaches art, this summer seemed like the opportune time for her to do something with that growing collection that was beginning to overtake her closets and basement. So, she decorated an out-of-commission airport shuttle and uses it to commute to fairs and events across Connecticut.
"You take everything off the bus. You load everything back on. You go to your next place. And you kind of do the same thing again," Gonzales said.
Smelly thrift shops filled with rows of polyester might come to mind. But for Gonzales whose self-described style is more funky than classic, vintage is so much more.
"One of the things I really try to make sure I do in the collections I curate is buy things that are everyday wearable vintage. And try not to buy things that are too costumey," she adds.
A new item as well constructed as something like one of her hand-beaded dresses from the '50s would cost hundreds of dollars, but vintage makes it affordable and even eco-friendly.
"Why go out and buy mass produced, disposable pieces of clothing that are made in sweatshops in third world countries when you can recycle what we already have," Gonzales said.
Boutiques on wheels first started popping up on the West Coast. But the now 70-member American Mobile Retail Association said it adds five to 10 new businesses a month. Co-founder Stacey Steffe says mobile retail can be a viable option for people both mid-career and for fresh out-of-fashion-school creative types. 
"They see that it's doable. It's attainable. They're looking at it going, 'Hey, I could invest 20 thousand dollars and start my own business. I could liquidate my 401K or I could pull from my savings.' You even see them doing crowd funding and doing these different kind of loan raising," Steffe said.
Steffe says it took four months before her mobile boutique began to turn a profit in Los Angeles. 
In Connecticut, business codes vary by municipality, so Gonzales had to maneuver through legal, permitting and insurance bumps on her own before the association expanded to the East Coast this year. Now it offers members consulting services via webinars. 
For now, Gonzales is the only member in Connecticut, but that could soon change.