AUSTIN—The t-shirt hangs high up on the wall, so high that its fibers almost seem to scrape the ceiling. Its dingy threads and faded colors proclaim its age to those down below. Whether the shirt was hung on this high pedestal to conceal its tatters or to glorify its age is hard to say. There was one aspect of the shirt that was not hard to see—the $250 price tag.
“People are dying to know why those shirts are so expensive,” said Katelyn Watkins, personal assistant to the owner of New Bohemia vintage store. “They are original tour tees. They are not reprints. You can’t just go to Target and find that Beatles shirt—you had to actually go see the Beatles.”
Vintage shirts from Kiss, Kansas, Rush and various other rock heroes’ tours adorn the walls of New Bohemia. Despite what one would think, many customers are willing to dole out hefty prices for the 30 year old memorabilia. Some of these customers attended the tours that the shirts advertise.
“We usually sell to collectors, or to super fans of those bands. And we sell quite a few,” said Watkins.
Located on South Congress in Austin, New Bohemia sells vintage clothing, accessories, and memorabilia from any and every era. From the moment one walks in, the colors are blinding—sending one back to the days of disco pants and glitter or gingham dresses and pearls.
Another glaring aspect of New Bohemia is the passion that the workers of New Bohemia have for the customers that come through. Their obsession for the items in the store, however, is even stronger.
“That cardigan is from the 1950s, and it is hand beaded,” said Watkins. “If you can see it up close, it has seed pearls hand- beaded onto it. It is just so fine, so exquisite.”
Watkins has been working here for about nine months. She spotted the jacket when it came in a few weeks ago.
She works in the warehouse where they mend, describe, and price the clothing before it reaches the store, in addition to helping the owner with personal matters. Though she normally doesn’t handle the items in the store, that cardigan was her personal favorite in-store piece of clothing.
“Stuff like that you just aren’t going to find everywhere. It’s a one of a kind,” she said.
The pearl detailing on the delicate jacket gave off an iridescent shine as the warm store lights beamed onto it.
“I love stuff that has stories behind it, or things that are simply made really well,” she said. She went on to describe a wedding dress with a hand-stitched floral embroidered pattern that came into the store once.
“It looked like it had been worn just the once and put away,” said Watkins. “You like to think about the woman that would have worn that.”
According to Katelyn, the owner of New Bohemia Talena Sandlin focuses on the story behind each item. Her intention is that every shopper will find his or her own individual style and story
Though the vintage market is bursting at the seams in the city of Austin, but the workers of New Bohemia are not worried. They encourage individuality of the items they sell and the “competing” stores themselves
“I think in Austin specifically there is a vibe that you should be unique and ‘weird,’ so I think small businesses tend to see each other as neighbors and friends,” said Watkins. “Plus, each store has it’s own aesthetic. We know the girls from Feathers and Prototype. We do in there and shop; they come in here and shop.”
Trisha Sandlin, who manages Talena’s store, explained that she and her sister just want people to find what they are looking for.
“We don’t really compete with any of the other stores because our store is completely different. We encourage other people to do well. If people can’t find something in our store, we will try and help them find another store that has it,” Trisha said. “We just want people to find what they are looking for.
They even offer a pamphlet with a map to guide their customers through the best vintage shopping stores in the area.
Talena Sandlin discovered her passion for vintage shopping after graduating from St. Edwards University. She received a degree in business and decided to combine her two skills by opening a shop called Parts and Labor. This store is currently open just down the street from New Bohemia. She then bought New Bohemia and went into business with Trista.
“We have a good relationship, but I think since I am her little sister, she can be more ‘herself’ around me than with other people. I get to see the non-professional side of her.”
Talena buys from different people who have collections of vintage items, and then she will re-sell them in New Bohemia. They also have buyers who go out and shop. The workers sift through the piles of items and decide what they want to put in the store.
“We have people who go down to into Mexico or into Oklahoma. They just shop and shop and shop and shop,” said Watkins. “We look for detailed stuff. We have a pair of boots right now that are manta ray—like they are made of manta ray skin.
Unique, patterned boots mosaic one wall with shelves that stretch from floor to ceiling. The manta ray boots, however, stand out among the rest.
After the chosen items make it to the store front, however, the real challenge for the employees of New Bohemia ensues. They end up being customers themselves
Damon Martinez, the store clerk at New Bohemia, held up a soft, white button down shirt with large pattern holes in the fabric.
“I am holding this item behind the counter until I have enough money to buy it for myself,” Martinez said with a laugh.
Watkins explained that in order for them to find true excitement about an item, it had to meet certain criteria.
“But every once in a while we get items that just really stand out because of their age or their attention to detail,” said Watkins. “We can’t keep our hands off of them.”
They just cannot seem to get enough of the items in the store. This contagious attitude and outlook on the business is what, in their opinion, keeps their small business afloat in the sea of “weird” retail in Austin.