Combining vintage fashions, furniture made ‘absolute’ sense

Tuesday, October 28, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:13 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

“This cream plaid one reminds me of my grandma’s wedding dress,” a young woman muses while admiring a flowing dress that was made in the 1950s.

Jennifer Johnson sends her a knowing smile.

Johnson is co-owner of Absolute Vintage, a shop that carries a host of items – from clothing to furniture – from the 1930s through the 1970s. The store has two locations, one at 1033 E. Walnut St. and one at 8 S. Ninth St.

“I love the design and style of vintage clothing from the ’40s and ’50s,” Johnson said. “It was such a unique period of time in our country. People wanted something fresh and new.”

The idea for Absolute Vintage came about a year ago, when Johnson and her business partner, Lisa Bartlett, owned separate vintage shops on Walnut Street. Johnson specialized in clothing, and Bartlett’s focus was furniture. Because they saw a lot of the same customers, the two felt it was only natural to work together.

“We had discussed it but didn’t actually decide to consolidate until we found the second location (on Ninth Street),” Johnson said. “It seemed too good to pass up. Now we combine our talents.”

The grand opening of Absolute Vintage fell on the first weekend in September, coinciding with the downtown Twilight Festival. Johnson said the new store generated a lot of interest then and that people are steadily becoming aware of what a “good mix” vintage clothing and furniture can be.

“We have rushes throughout the day,” Johnson said. “At least 90 percent of the time, customers are here.”

Johnson said her years in the vintage business have taught her that it’s a lot harder than it looks and that selling things that were in vogue a generation ago, or longer, can offer some unexpected challenges.

“Fifty percent of it is finding the stuff,” Johnson said. “There’s been more demand for vintage goods in the last 20 years, and good condition is key.”

Wearing a men’s western-style shirt and Acme cowboy boots circa the 1950s, Johnson proves that high-quality vintage items can be worn or used every day. Prices at Absolute Vintage are based on what each item cost at an auction or sale, which makes them more appealing to shoppers on a tight budget. However, Johnson said she would be hard-pressed to name a “best seller” at her stores.

“We see a lot of people that just want to wear something wild,” Johnson said.

Johnson is aware that Columbia already boasts several vintage shops in the downtown area, but she thinks Absolute Vintage will be a unique addition to the mix.

“We’re not selling the same teapot,” Johnson said. “Even with the same type of business, every (owner) has their own style and taste, so there is going to be different stuff.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Johnson notices another customer inspecting a long black coat with a sequined collar.

“That used to be mine,” Johnson says.

“Are you ready to get rid of it?” the woman asks.

With a slow nod, Johnson replies, “To the right person.”

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