On the first weekend of my NYC adventure last October, I spent the Sunday in the Lower East Side at the annual Grub Street Food Festival, happy as a pig … well, happier than the pigs on the spit, put it that way.
All of my senses were engaged as I explored the vast and varied culinary wonders that were on offer, all in the one basketball court kind of looking space. The sun shone, Solange was remixed through the speakers (with reputation still in tact) and my only aim for the day was to eat lots and to do so quick enough to ensure my tummy didn’t know it was full. It was a most enjoyable challenge although I was surprised and disappointed at how quickly I was beaten (I blame the empanadas). The highlight of my gastronomic undertaking was my lobster roll: a tiny, tasty, succulent, overpriced taste of heaven. If it was bad I didn’t want to be good. I joined a family of Southerners stage right of the Lobster stand, in something close to gospel singing as we bit into our seafood dreams and let our bodies celebrate the food they were receiving. ‘Mmm… mmmm MMMMMMMMM’ with body/ booty/ head shake thrown in for good measure.
Nothing else quite lived up to this in the taste sensation stakes but I thoroughly enjoyed trying to find a worthy opponent. A particular treat was being handed a full pickle, still dripping in salt water, from a man who spent most of his time with one arm down a barrel. People queued as if it were cash being distributed and no one flinched at the idea of hand to mouth consumption (i.e. straight from his hand to your mouth); sure he was wearing gloves after all! I went with it, unfortunately unable to get over the aforementioned distribution manner, leading to my gag reflexes engaging in a rather unfortunate way. By George, I kept it down though and it turns out sour pickles are pretty good. He repeated this all day. I really would love to know how many pickles he went though; perhaps it was a record. It was all in the name of pickle festival promotion. Yep, should I have wished to, I could have visited another food festival the following weekend featuring only pickles. Something for everyone in this city, eh? Mostly though I loved the people watching/ staring/ stalking. You couldn’t have imagined every type of character in attendance, from every type of background. The love of food transcends language-barriers (see above universal language of ‘Mmmmmmmmmm’).
When I was certain I had witnessed absolutely every chef’s wrist action and filled my stomach to its absolute limit, I headed toward the gate to continue my day as a tourist. From the corner of my eye on the left however, through a wired fence, I spied an accompanying festival bar. No, this alone didn’t raise my excitement, it was the delight to the right that called for a double take. It was a caravan… but it was a dressing room… but it was a store…. but it was… magical! Before my head had told my feet what to do I was through the fence, in front of the door and smiling manically at the ladies behind their envy-inducing old cash register. I learned very quickly that this was the ultimate ‘pop-up’ shop. It had absolutely no location to call its own but rather drove and parked to where the wind took it (and where Vintage lovers were likely to hang out). After a slightly manic (on my part) interaction with the lady behind the counter and the business, it became evident that La Poubelle Vintage was the kind of place that I could – and possibly already had – become obsessed with.
In keeping with the nomadic spirit of the store I ‘encountered’ it a few more times in my remaining weeks, finally organising a proper chat with Laura as she set up in the beautiful Park Slope Brooklyn Flea on a crisp, happy November Sunday. So there it was that we were hanging by the trailer, shooting the breeze and getting in the way of customers (that was just me obviously). The aforementioned owner is the gorgeous-in-every-way Laura Lanz-Frolio. Originally from Main but living in Williamsburg (of course) she worked in fashion and retail during her high-school years and during this time began to desire something a bit different from the norm with her personal fashion so started to frequent thrift stores. It was then as a college student that she took up a job in a Vintage store and honed her knowledge of fashion eras. By 2009 it was clear that her shopping habit had led to a collection and so she started trading on Etsy as La Poubelle Vintage (sounds very sophisticated, actually means Trashcan Vintage – as if I could love it more!). This proved to be the exact move that she craved and for 3 years she worked tirelessly sourcing, altering, curating, selling and most importantly, learning – about her stock, her business and especially her customers. At the same time, the dream of a mobile shop was nurtured.
Having spent time on the West Coast and seeing the popularity of mobile retail there she had always thought it was a cool idea and perfect for NY, where food trucks were already such a big business. She also loved the idea of how a mobile shop might differentiate her business in a city so full of Vintage traders. Cute and eye-catching was the aim; it paid off. Now, Laura attributes a huge amount of her success to the uniqueness of the concept. Nearly everyone that passes wants to know what the cool trailer is; it draws people in and ultimately, gets people shopping.
Alas, these things cost money and so the hustle was on. With the aid of a Kickstarter campaign (similar to our own Fund it initiative) – and plenty of support from family and friends – she tirelessly promoted her undertaking with endless Facebook updates and a million emails, offering store credit dollar for dollar to contributors (so win-win for customers). $12K was raised and the dream was becoming a reality. With the money raised, she bought the trailer which was then ‘a really ugly green colour’ as it had been covered with boat paint by previous owner. Inside there was a sink, kitchen, toilet, bed, and stove. It all had to go. With the help of a carpenter pal, she completely gutted and transformed both the interior and exterior.
Having no clue of how anything worked Laura threw herself into the project and learnt how to use power tools which she didn’t even know the name of before. Gotta love a chick with a Vintage dress and a tool belt! After sitting in front of a computer for years working online she found it incredibly satisfying to work with her hands designing and creating something tangible. Monitoring the progress was a constant thrill.
I wondered how different she found having a physical store compared to online. Beside the obvious differences, did she need to change her stock, for example? ‘It’s a different feel when you’re curating. Online certain things are on a mannequin but it doesn’t always translate on photographs. Seeing and feeling is great for certain stock so I keep this in mind when choosing for the trailer. It’s also really helpful to see what people pick up and what they are interested in or drawn to. Online you can monitor page views but it doesn’t necessarily translate’.
So what can you expect on the rails? There have been examples of every decade from ’20s and ’30s through to the ’80s stocked in the trailer, although it’s ’50s to ’70s that get her buzzing… and it shows. The store is nothing short of an overflowing dress-up box for someone with a mid-century fondness like myself. She told me that she once heard Vintage-loving people are always in to the eras that their parents wore. Her parents were hippies and she’s definitely into the ’60s and 70s aesthetic as a result. I remember thinking she was on to something with that theory and have shared it lots since then. It’s definitely true for me anyway as I have a massive passion for the styles that my parents wore when coming of age. Still hounding my Mama for long-gone dresses I see in old photos…
No longer the norm in Vintage trading these days but for Laura handpicking everything is essential. She scours estate sales, particular outside of NY, and finds that the work pays off. She once bought a bag of clothes from a lady in Brooklyn that wanted to sell the lot quickly and for once price. Laura took a punt and bought the bag, only to discover a beautifully made, purple Ceil Chapman (Marilyn Monroe’s favourite designer and dresser gown from the ’60s). Unexpected incidents like this make every day an adventure and thrill when sourcing. In saying that, she tries not to buy something just because it’s a designer label and is much more driven by aesthetics. ‘Fun, funky prints and great shaped dresses’ – that’ll pretty much sum it up so.
As I continue hanging out, interrupting Laura’s workday and observing her interact with her delighted customers, I am struck that that this must be pretty near to a perfect job. Ok the snow winter means other plans have to be made but the rest of the year has got to make up for it. Stocking your beloved trailer with your individually sourced pieces and taking off around your favourite city, to wherever you feel might be buzzing on that particular day. As I’m daydreaming, her original 30s cash register regularly cha-chings to signify a sale and brings me back to the sidewalk on which I’m standing. This delightful noise is generally followed by Laura ducking to the bottom of her trailer to a secret compartment to grab a store bag for the customer’s new purchase. A place for everything and everything so well thought out. In fact, forget this as a business; I could happily live in the La Poubelle Vintage trailer… with the Vintage clothes remaining of course.
For any of you lucky enough to be in New York this weekend, you can find Laura and La Poubelle at the Brooklyn Flea both days: in Park Slope this Saturday and in Williamsburg for the first time on Sunday. Say hi from me (or take me with you – both work).
x Irene x
♥ Visit La Poubelle Vintage here and Brooklyn Flea here ♥