Pairs of old cowboy boots that line the storefront at 911 Central Ave. will mosey off into the sunset when Buffalo Gal Vintage closes on Sunday.
After six years of operating in three locations — each one bigger than the last — owner Desiree Sheridan is taking her business back to its Web-based origins.
Health reasons are forcing Sheridan to close — not customers’ demand for the retro clothing she sells.
The past several years have seen a steady increase in the number of boutique vintage and retro clothing stores in St. Petersburg. In part, that trend reflects the city’s embrace of young, cutting-edge artists and its fervor for locally owned, independent businesses.
As one of the first vintage shops in town, Buffalo Gal was at the head of that wave. “I saw there was an untapped market,” Sheridan said.
A decade ago, a vintage or retro enthusiast in Pinellas County had to cross the Howard Frankland to sift through the overstuffed racks at La France, Squaresville or Sherri’s Yesterdaze. Sheridan had that in mind when she started selling out of the Gas Plant Antique Mall.
These days, paisley mini-dresses and feather-decked hats hang on well-stocked racks from converted warehouses in the Grand Central District to retail space on the ground floor of a towering condo building in the heart of downtown.
“The scene is up-and-coming,” said local artist Brandi Stark, who also teaches religious studies at St. Petersburg College, in an email. “And it’s nice to see the small stores coming back to St. Pete.”
ArtPool owner Marina Williams started selling clothing from bygone areas at her eclectic boutique shortly after opening five years ago. At first, she got a few raised eyebrows.
“When we started, people didn’t really understand us,” she said. “In St. Pete, there wasn’t a whole lot of vintage in 2008.”
The metal racks sporting brilliant frocks, some of which could have been worn on “Laugh-In,” reflect St. Petersburg’s status as a creative hub on the whole, said Keep St. Pete local founder and president Olga Bof.
“I think that it’s actually tied to our thriving arts community,” she said. “When you’ve got artists, you’ve got people wanting to have a unique look.”
The appeal lies in the fact clothing isn’t generally made the way it used to be, Williams said.
“Some contemporary brands aren’t made entirely well,” she said. “The older vintage (clothing) is just made with such timeless seamstress work, and even the factory work was phenomenal.”
Exactly what qualifies as “vintage” is debatable. Generally speaking, vintage clothing is older — everything from the turn of the century until, roughly, 1980. Some shops, though, also sell newer clothing designed to look old. Many shops have inventories dotted with authentic Gatsby or Mad Men-era items, along with articles made just a year or two ago.
Places such as Misred, at 615 Central Ave., specialize in upcycling, which repurposes used or surplus material into original new clothing. Central Avenue’s 600 block, which features an eclectic and ever-changing roster of galleries and boutiques, features several well-regarded vintage shops.
Many vintage shop owners say the diversity works to their advantage. Often, they send each other business.
“With vintage, you’ll never be a real competitor because you all have different things,” said Kate Thompson, a manager at La France, who has sent shoppers to St. Petersburg.
The clientele has changed over the years, going from a trickle of niche connoisseurs to a steady stream of shoppers from all over.
“It is beginning to draw people from outside the community, who come in to go antique shopping and vintage clothing shopping,” Sheridan said. “People who come in from Sarasota. People who come in from Orlando.”
While the growing number of shops is creating an interesting vintage scene, some worry St. Petersburg can’t support so many boutiques.
“The market is really saturated,” said Rosie Williams, owner of Ramblin’ Rose, another 600 Block boutique. “That can be tough.”
The vintage scene is even further crowded by the online and mobile vendors who show up at special events such as the 600 Block’s monthly Indie Market or the Vintage Vendor Bender, which happens occasionally outside Little Brooklyn downtown.
The Junker’s Ball, an outdoor market event coinciding with Buffalo Gal’s last hurrah, from noon to 6 p.m. today on the 900 block of Central Avenue, will include live music and wares from neighborhood shops, including Buffalo Gal.
Even though her shop is closing, Sheridan said this won’t be it for her — or St. Petersburg’s embrace of vintage fashions.
“It’s everywhere,” she said. “America’s digging in their closets and having fun with it, and I think it’s brilliant.”