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Vintage mixer proves satisfying for vendors, community

By Amanda Myers, Point Park News Service

Entering Teamster’s Hall for the bi-annual Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer is like walking into an overloaded vintage candy land. On April 7, the two-floor space crammed with turquoise jewelry, flower-patterned 70s mugs and outrageous light fixtures, had plenty for the dedicated collector or first-time shopper to choose from.

“We want someone on a budget to be able to come and have a great experience, leaving with a treasure or two, alongside someone who has more to invest,” said founders Bess Dunlevy, Michael Lutz and Jason Sumney in an email exchange.

The trio started the mixer in 2012 to offer the city of Pittsburgh “a genuine vintage-specific vendor fair.” The rise of vintage has risen in recent years thanks to the younger generation.

This spring event prominently features furniture and housewares sellers and the founders say it is ideal for first-time homeowners, while also attracting students and veteran collectors.

After paying the $5 entry fee, visitors are free to roam the first floor with pizza, sweet treats and wine on hand to sustain that keen shopping eye. Founders say they average 2,000 attendees per event, which allows little wiggle room when making your way through the merchandise. Documentarian Rick Sebak’s film crew was partially to blame for a few roadblocks.

The basement had unique housewares like pricey Andy Warhol prints. A separate brick-walled room offered records and comics for those that may have forgotten their old hobbies are now cool again. One woman was so excited to find Joni Mitchell’s album “Blue” after losing her original copy years ago.

Picking up business cards and chatting up shop owners is a central part of the event that relates to the organizers’ emphasis on community. Carrie Christman has been coming to the event as a vendor since the second mixer and said this is her ninth time for a reason.

“It’s the best vintage event in Pittsburgh. The quality of the vendors and the goods – you can’t beat it,” she said.

Christman started her Etsy shop Velouria Vintage in 2010 after owning a store in Rochester, New York. She closed the store in 2004 and took a break before coming to Pittsburgh because she knew the city had a great vintage community. She quickly built a relationship with those around her to grow her inventory.

“Sometimes you meet up with people who ask you to do house sales,” she said. “I go to a lot of estate sales though, they’re the best place to get them [pieces].”

When operating a table at one of these events, sellers must keep an eye out for potential business. During our conversation, a young woman interrupts to purchase a delicate gold purse from Christman.

“I actually have a bigger purse version of the beaded one, so I was so excited to find something I could put it in,” she said, a red-painted smile forming on her face.

The hunt is a driving force for many when it comes to finding vintage. This is especially true for vendor Nicholas Hess who had to go overseas to hone his interests. His assortment of old baby doll legs and early 1900s mugshots show his darker fascination. An interest in Halloween and anatomy was given a new vision when he witnessed darker elements in Europe.

“I saw a museum in Paris that had human abnormalities and conjoined fetuses and I was super into it,” he said.

After traveling for eight years, he later opened his own store, The Printer’s Cabinet & Curiosities, in Oil City five years ago this November. He continues to travel because you can’t find the items he sells locally.

“This [display at mixer] is definitely a representation of what I do but my store is much more like taxidermy, human bones, wet specimens – but they’re too fragile to bring here.”

Hess has worked with funeral homes to gain some of his inventory. He’s sold cemetery stones, coffins. The latter caused some controversy at a previous mixer when he used a child’s coffin as a jewelry display case.

He wasn’t going to make the trip out this year for the mixer, but a fellow vendor convinced him to return after a three-year hiatus.

“I’m very happy I came out this year. You meet so many new people and its good networking to talk to these other vendors,” Hess said.

Another notable presence was of course Sebak. He was there filming an episode for his “Nebby” documentary series on WQED.

Sebak has a long history with the event. He attended the first mixer and has sold his own vintage items as a vendor on occasion. Sebak is also a longtime friend of founders Dunlevy, Lutz and Sumney, as they commented.

“The four of us have a lot in common – our love of Pittsburgh, its history, our love of connecting with people and … well, our love of old stuff!”

The “Nebby” episode is set to premiere in early June.

Until the next mixer showcases more vintage in the fall, shoppers will have to settle for the many brick and mortar stores and online shops that create the vintage community of Pittsburgh.

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