Yesterday, we checked out Queen West’s YP vintage staple, 69 Vintage. It was a nice treat to have the store to ourselves early in the morning, free from the energetic bustle of the store on weekends. 69 Vintage is neatly organized and makes vintage shopping less daunting by providing a one-stop shop for beautifully preserved dresses, unique accessories, beloved sweaters and an eclectic collection of lace up boots, cowboy boots and even (our favourite!) Frye Boots – all at prices that won’t break the YP bank. It’s one of those stores that you could spend hours in but don’t have to.
69 Vintage offers the city’s best selection of vintage footwear of all sizes and surprisingly affordable prices. For the female, you will find no shortage of purses in great condition from days past. For the gentleman, the store features an assortment of casual wear, with a wide selection of vintage tees, plaid shirts or leather jackets. 69 Vintage also offers exclusive one-of-a-kind, locally designed clothing, jewellery and accessories.
We spoke with the store’s YP owner, Kealan Sullivan, who opened up shop nine years ago. Sullivan had a passion for vintage and fashion from a young age, having worked in Kensington Market for a chunk of her twenties and describes always attending clothing shows and collecting clothing, hats, shoes and accessories. A regular on Toronto’s social scene, she met her two original investors “out and about” but later bought out after her first year in business.
In 2007, she opened another vintage location, Buy the Pound, at Bloor and Landsdowne (127 Bloor St. West) and another, V, by 69 Vintage last year at Queen and Walnut (198 Walnut), across from Trinity Bellwoods Park. Each store has a unique character. She describes 69 Vintage as a “vintage product pumping machine” and the store enjoys high rates of turnover; Buy the Pound features independent retail designers and is a full expression of the designer’s passion or creativity. Over on Walnut, V has more of a boutique feel.
Sullivan takes an unusually hands-on approach and does all the buying and laundry. She feels that the best thing in terms of quality control is handpicking her items herself, especially with the needs and wants of her specific clients in mind. She currently employs five full-time employees, in addition to a blogger and photographer, and deals with a constant flux of suppliers, revealing that she is paying up to ten people at any given time. At 69 Vintage, quality is not compromised. To prove this point, Sullivan directs our attention to a cashmere sweater from the 1950s that looks like it could be fresh off the rack today, free from any sort of pilling or damages. Over coffee, we sat down in the store to ask a few more questions.
Describe your typical day
I get my day off to an early start as shopping is a competitive industry and you have to be on your game. I spend a lot of time in my basement and storage unit preparing inventory, which is busting at the seams with all sorts of clothing, hand bags and boots that I find along the way. I also love hanging out in the stores whenever I get the opportunity, because I like to be able to interact with customers firsthand. I am constantly collecting, so that means being in my car a lot on the road for appointments. These days, there are many middlemen in vintage, so I am constantly dealing with an assortment of people. Many people are collectors, everyone from housewives to older ladies with closets full of clothes. As boutiques have grown, so have other offshoots of the business.
Did you always want to open a boutique?
I found myself veering away from an academic path in my early twenties. I was a very good high school student and a very bad college student. I think I had an entrepreneurial spirit since I was about 18 and wanted to start my own business eventually but it obviously seemed daunting at the time. I studied social work after high school and simply was not engaged. When the opportunity came to open the store, I dove right into it. Like any entrepreneur starting a business will tell you, I spent all of my free time in the store, seven days a week between 9-2am working on displays and my vision. I worked non-stop for two years before hiring someone.
How does the store appeal to the YP?
The store appeals to the young professional because it saves time and money. Vintage shopping can be overwhelming, time consuming and very hit or miss, and young professionals simply don’t always have the luxury of time. Most YPs spend most of their clothing budget on their work gear or on formal wear for weddings and charity events. They come to the store on Saturdays to purchase something funky and cool that won’t break the bank and that will amp up their weekend wardrobe. They quickly discover that the price points are actually amazing, especially when they return from browsing the racks of other vintage clothing stores in cities like New York and Chicago. For example, Free People sells vintage but I have the same products at one quarter of the price. Stores like H&M and Zara provide quick fixes but may also prove a waste of money in the end when the item has to be thrown out within months.
What makes 69 Vintage unique?
Good service, customer attention and prices. I have developed relationships with customers and they learn to trust my taste. I maintain constant communication with my clients and am always going back and forth through email. Customers will send me pictures of cool things they find either in the pages of magazines or on people they see on the street – whether it be a jean jacket vest, silk dress or beaded accessory – and I will find it for them. I believe in personal customer service and ask questions and offer advice. I am genuinely interested to know what my customers are wearing to certain events and like to be involved in the creation of their outfit. We have a blog that we keep fresh and includes some of my favourite personal picks. Some may not know, but I also offer a ton of stuff that is not in the shop because I don’t see the point in having it all out at once and there simply isn’t enough room.
What are your plans for the future?
Aesthetically, I would like to re-do the current store. I have been decorating with wood and broken objects for so long now and think I was oblivious to the fact that other people were as well. When I noticed the décor in Sporting Life now included crates, trunks and suitcases, I realized that it might be time to take a different direction. I feel like I have been in this industry for so long and read countless books on periods and designers that there really is not much more I can learn, so I would like to go back to school at some point. Customers can also expect an online store in the near future.
What advice would you give to fellow YPs hoping to open their own boutique?
Know yourself. Ask yourself whether the venture is your true passion or a hobby that is an extension of your creativity. Can you make your life’s work out of it? Retail is never easy and fashion can be so fickle. You really do have to be a natural and have to be a people person. Stay inspired and connected to your market and customers.
Thanks for giving us the inside scoop on 69 Vintage, Kealan! We know where we will be purchasing our next dress for a function (guaranteed not to show up in the same dress as anyone else) and are excited to wear our new tanned Frye boots with a flirty dress this spring.