Vintanthromodern, Reinvented, Reopens In Westville

Lucy Gellman | October 17th, 2018

Vintanthromodern, Reinvented, Reopens In Westville

Fashion  |  Vintage clothing  |  Westville  |  Arts, Culture & Community


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Vanessa Nowack and Melissa Gonzales. Lucy Gellman Photos. 

Wood floors sprawl out, swept so clean they glint in the light. There’s a sequined dress winking out from the back, waiting to be tried on. Small soaps are snuggled alongside handmade trinkets in small wicker baskets. Furs and heavy jackets fall into a neat line near the front. There are still clothes to be ironed and put on hangers, mannequins to be dressed and undressed, but the doors are open and the store is ready for business.

Welcome to the new Vintanthro Modern & Vintage, a rebrand of the beloved vintage shop that closed its East Rock storefront at 938 State St. earlier this year, after a month of blowout sales in February and early March. Last weekend, the store reopened with a new identity at 895 Whalley Ave, in a former computer shop in the heart of Westville. It joins a spray of relatively new businesses including Whimsies and Wishes, Mew Haven Cat Cafe and Elm City Sounds that have all arrived in the past year or so.

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Gonzales announced she was leaving East Rock in early March, after deciding that the shop had become too much for her to handle with a teaching job in Hamden, new baby girl at home, and rising rents in the shop and in the neighborhood. At the time, she didn’t consider it the end of her vintage journey—she was looking at a spot just up the street, next to to Da Legna Pizzeria. But the day before she signed a new lease, Gonzales realized that the space didn’t feel right. She decided that she’d wait for another storefront to turn up. Months passed, and she began to worry that a new shop wasn’t in the cards after all. "We were losing momentum," she recalled. 

And then in August, the thrift gods stepped in. Early that month, Lotta Studio Co-founder Mistina Hanscom reached out with a lead: a shop just down the block from Lotta was about to open up. If Gonzales called the landlord right away, there was a chance she could snatch it up. Gonzales gave them a ring. But she knew she still needed a business partner: managing the space by herself was one of the reasons she'd left East Rock. She couldn't do it again. 

A view of some of the "before" action, taken in mid-September. 

Just two days later, Gonzales got an email from Vanessa Nowack, a West Haven and Naugatuck native who was settling back in Connecticut after several years traveling and working in Boston. Nowack, who finds and restores furniture, had reached out to Gonzales on a trip home in January, but the two hadn’t had time to connect. Now that she was back, she wanted to know if Gonzales might have work for her. Just days later, the storefront was theirs.

“The timing was too weird and too perfect,” Gonzales said. “We met up, and instantly we clicked with each other. I said, ‘Listen. This is where I’m at with my business right now, this is what I need, this is what I’m looking for.’ It was like quick. It was like ‘yeah, let’s do this.’”

The property needed a lot of love. Even after landlords cleared it out—there were rumors of computers stacked to the ceiling that ran through the neighborhood—Gonzales recalled that "it was just so dirty." Nearly every day after work for two months, she and Nowack headed to Whalley, tearing up carpet, removing old trash, repainting, letting literal dust settle, hammering new framework, and repainting again. While the two soft opened during City-Wide Open Studios’ (CWOS) “Westville Weekend,” they said there is still work they need to finish before hosting a formal grand opening later this year.

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But from the outside, it’s fully open for business. In September, New Haven artist Chen Reichert presented Gonzales with a new design that kept the name, but made it clear that the store had donned a sort of new identity. Animator Marsha Movshovich hopped in with a video about the move. Fellow Westvillian Thema Graves, who runs Holistic Soul Energy, did an energy clearing in the space, burning copal and coal to get rid of the “old, dark energy” that lived there (a link to the video is below). For both of the owners, it has started to feel a little like a homecoming, surrounded by friends and business owners that they’ve long respected.

“New Haven’s different than it was when I was here,” said Nowack, recalling underwhelming visits to Westville during her childhood. “There was nothing here. Now it’s all this cool stuff. And it’s small, manageable. You run into people, which is nice.”

Because the storefront at 895 Whalley is smaller—about 700 square feet, or half the size of the store in East Rock and divided over two floors—Gonzales said it is “even more tightly curated,” with fewer women’s vintage clothes, very little extra storage space, and the addition of Nowack’s furniture. Because her love for vintage clothes is partly environmental, she will feature less polyester and retro-style clothing, prioritizing silk, wool and natural fibers.

Just as she did in East Rock, Gonzales said she still plans to feature small-batch, handmade items, local wares, and an expanded children’s line. In the basement, patrons can get a closer look at furniture that Nowack has found and rehabbed.

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While Gonzales said she worried initially about foot traffic—upper State Street was an easy sell, because of the number of cafes and businesses nearby—that's no longer a concern of hers. She pointed to other businesses on the block and surrounding avenues: Lotta Studio, Neville Wisdom, Strange Ways, West River Arts, Elm City Sounds and the Mew Haven Cat Cafe just across the street.

“The community that’s established here in Westville is so strong, and there’s really starting to be a critical mass of people here that are making Westville a destination for people … there’s just a lot of buzz, a lot of people starting to come together. It just felt like it was time to just jump back into it. I missed being a part of the energy that was happening in New Haven.”

Vintanthromodern is now open 12-5 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. To watch a video of Thema Graves' energy clearing, click on the video by Travis Carbonella below.