Wednesday, October 22, 2008

North End Vintage

MIDDLETOWN - Sandy Fernandes was cruising Craigslist one day when she came across a sales listing for a wardrobe's worth of vintage clothing. Inspired, she called her sister Debbie, a former fashion merchandising student living in New York.

After looking at the items on the online-classifieds site, the sisters went to see the clothing in person.

"We took a look at it and loved it," Sandy said. "We said, 'Why don't we open up a store?'"

Fast forward one year.

Sisters and business partners Sandy, 25, and Debbie Fernandes, 23, opened the doors Tuesday to Desa Vintage.

"I think we had the entrepreneurial gene," Sandy said.

Desa Vintage specializes in women's apparel and accessories as well as some men's apparel. Blouses start at $8, the average dress is about $24 and jackets run $54 and up.

Debby and Sandy select the pieces at estate sales, flea markets, antique stores, thrift stores and consignment shops, sifting through for "keepers," Sandy said.

"We try to ask ourselves if we would wear it," she said.

The Main Street boutique sells unique pieces in good condition, Sandy and Debbie said.

"You're going to be the only one wearing it," Debbie said. "You won't find it anywhere around here."

Everything is dry cleaned before it is put in the store.

"Being from New York, I have shopped at a lot of vintage clothing stores," Debbie said. "I wanted something that didn't smell like it was grandma's basement."

Sandy also wanted to make sure Desa Vintage had a boutique feel.

"We didn't want to be considered a more upscale Salvation Army."

When Debby and Sandy decided to go into business together, they were looking at retail space in towns such as West Hartford and Avon, but Middletown had more of the downtown appeal they were looking for.

"We were looking for something that was more up and coming," Sandy said.

"The other towns we were looking at were more cookie-cutter," Debbie said. "You need a more eclectic mix of people."

A more liberal demographic that includes the student population at Wesleyan University seemed like a fit.

"I think Wesleyan students are our target market," Debbie said. "They want something different - not something everyone is wearing.

Desa Vintage is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. The boutique is closed Mondays.

Sandy and Debbie decided to stay open Sundays because of the student foot traffic downtown.

"Through the renovations, we noticed that a lot of students would walk by to go to the diner," Debbie said. "I think because students aren't in class, they're walking around."

Sandy and Debbie have had a great deal of support from their families as they got the store ready for Tuesday's opening.

Their brother, Brian, built the fitting room, and their father hung clothing racks and made a radiator cover that doubles as a display area for jewelry.

"We have a lot of help from our family," Debbie said. "Everything in here is thanks to one of them."

Desa Vintage is at 534 Main St. in Middletown. For information, call (860) 704-0870.
Printed with permission by the Middletown Press.

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