For those of us who grew up in New England, looking at T-shirts from Jamaica Plain-based Local Vyntage is unexpectedly thrilling. They remind us of a lost era when discount department stores were not all national chains and amusement parks possessed local flavor, and probably more than a few unsafe rides. Local Vyntage produces shirts featuring logos of stores where you might have purchased your first VCR (Lechmere), your first pair of acid wash jeans (Caldor), or gone to your first concert (Great Woods).
Extra points if you remember Mrs. B.
“We have oddly nostalgic feelings about department stores of all things,” said Chet Winnicki, who started Local Vyntage after he lost his job in health care. “There’s just something about it that feels warm and nice about the memories of these places.”
Winnicki, a Connecticut native, fondly recalls his great aunt giving him a few dollars to buy toys at Caldor, and he hears similar stories from customers who are excited to show their retro local pride. The T-shirts are priced on the higher side ($32), which is something customers frequently point out to Winnicki.
“I always hear about the irony that I’m selling shirts that feature discount stores like Bradlees on them, but Bradlees never would have sold such an expensive tee,” he said.
We rang Winnicki to reminisce about the many fine New England institutions, such as Ames, Paragon Park, the Worcester Centrum, and Spag’s, that are no longer with us, but now live on through his T-shirts.
What was the inspiration to start this?
I’m still part of the T-shirt wearing demographic, the generation that wears tees all the time, and I was thinking about things that should be on T-shirts that I couldn’t find as a consumer. I think when you’re in your thirties feelings of nostalgia start getting stronger [Winnicki is 39], and so these were some of the things I wanted to wear. And then it started growing.
Do you get a lot of requests for specific stores or venues?
We do get a lot of requests. When we have customer service interactions, it’s often “Hey, can I exchange this T-shirt for a different size,” and then “Here’s 19 other ideas for shirts that you should do in this area.” There’s also a lot of “Thank you so much for starting this business. It means so much to my family.” You know, I looked you up on the site to see if you had purchased anything, and I noticed you bought a Caldor shirt last summer. Why did you pick that shirt in particular?
I bought it because I used to buy records there when I was a kid, and I was always a fan of that 1970s logo.
What kind of reactions have you gotten when you wear it?
I thought I was the one doing the interview here. Reactions to the shirt definitely skew older. People under 30 probably just think Caldor is the name of a new indie band. Speaking of names and logos, do you ever run into any copyright issues?
There’s a long answer to that, but the short answer is that every design has its own history. We look at each one, one-by-one, and make a determination if this is something we can or can’t move forward with. And if we are going to move forward, you know, how do we move forward? What are the right ways? We always try to do the right thing. We want to make sure the history of these places is preserved properly.