Takeaway

What’s in store in Reno, Nevada?

Kiran Mehta | Updated on November 01, 2019 Published on November 01, 2019

Being thrifty: Junkee was founded by Reno resident and interior designer Jessica Schneider during the recession of 2007-09 - Kiran Mehta

All you need is $35 to buy yourself an antique artefact or a designer evening gown in this American town

Reno, a town in Nevada, US, lures visitors with its casinos, the shimmy and shake of showgirls and the endless flow of champagne. But scratch the surface of this gaming haven, and you’ll find so much more than just the flash of cash.

About 20 miles from the city is a network of scenic hiking trails at the Galena Creek. Within the city limits, you’ll find the National Automobile Museum, with its fleet of vintage cars and a collection of horseless carriages. Art lovers can walk across the city and spot creations unveiled at Burning Man — the annual arts and cultural festival held just north of Reno. Or get hold of a mural map and check out the street art that paints Reno.

It was behind one such patch of colourful graffiti that I turned the corner onto Virginia Street, and found Junkee. The signage over the red-brick building gave little away, with a clothes hanger for a logo, while tea-cups and plates framed the nameplate.

Curiosity had me push through the doors and I immediately felt as though I’d stumbled through the cupboard in Narnia and onto something magical.

The sprawling store — 15,000 sq ft — had everything from vintage clothing to Santa pants; intricately crafted silver-plated earrings to kitschy beaded necklaces; antique bone china cups and saucers, to plastic toy tea-sets, and so much more.

What made this an even better find were the price tags; a 100-year-old doll bed or a designer evening gown for $35, for example.

The eclectic inventory at Junkee Clothing Exchange, which I soon learned was the full name of the store, was a result of the recession of 2007-09. It turns out that Reno resident Jessica Schneider, an interior designer, found her business taking a hit in 2008. She says, “My phone stopped ringing and I knew I had to come up with a recession-proof idea.” That’s when Schneider, a “serial entrepreneur” who ONCE sold lollipops in HER school bus to make pocket money, found the best way to beat the slump.

“I knew people would want to save money and buy second-hand,” Schneider says. And so Junkee — which stocks used goods and antiques — was born. Any creative void she felt from giving up her design business was soon filled by the striking displays at the store. I spot stacks of vintage suitcases that go from floor to ceiling, like a colourful column holding up the roof.

Show time: Over 30 vendors display their collection at the antiques section - Kiran Mehta

 

While the term ‘thrift store’ brings to mind images of rummaging through baskets and bins, everything at Junkee is neatly on display, with sections dedicated to apparel, shelves for shoes, cases for jewellery, a corner for dolls, CDs and more.

I check out the apparel section, and among the many vintage jeans I also find a cream coloured lace gown, a sequinned flapper dress and a witch hat that sits atop a broom. But my most surprising find is a hand-embroidered ghaghra-choli. In the accessories area, I find a curious contraption that resembles Madonna’s iconic cone bra. I look through the stacks of CDs and find music by Elvis Presley, The Beatles and compact audio cassettes of Michael Jackson, ABBA and other singing sensations from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. A gumball machine makes me feel like I’ve stepped through a portal to the past; a time before PlayStations and mobile apps.

The largest crowds seem to steer towards the antiques section, where I find a dark-wood cabinet, a rosewood rocking chair, an Edwardian bookcase and a silver-plated candelabra among other things. Schneider explains that this section features over 30 vendors, who rent the space from her. “They bring in their antiques, art and furniture. I thought an antique section would be a good idea because it brings in all demographics,” she says. As far as the other goods go, Schneider says, “Finding junk is a continual process. We buy items from the public at our buying counter, but the majority of our inventory comes from elsewhere. I have to search high and low for liquidations and hoarder houses.”

My favourite area of the store is no bigger than a walk-in closet and is dedicated to doll repair. I find all sorts of dolls here — porcelain, plastic, with movable limbs, eerie-looking doll heads and so on. I am told by a salesperson that this is the corner where Schneider’s “nana” likes to spend her time. Schneider says, “My grandmother Lena Black has been a doll expert for as long as I can remember.” It was Black’s penchant for dolls that led her into collection, repair and recycling, which in turn exposed Schneider to the trade.

While Schneider may have started the business during the recession, Junkee stayed relevant even after the tides turned. But won’t the throwaway culture eventually catch up with Junkee? Almost on cue, I find my answer as two teenagers walk in bearing bags of their used clothes, hoping to make a sale. I overhear buzzwords such as “sustainable fashion” and “recycling”.

Vintage wear also offers another advantage in the age of Instagram — posing in clothes that aren’t off the rack. The formula may just translate into a very bright future for Junkee.

Kiran Mehta is a journalist based in Mumbai

Published on November 01, 2019
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