Justine Griffin / Herald-Tribune – Ashley Rogers’ face lit up as she watched a young girl, maybe 10 years old, fawn over a pair of vintage ladies gloves she was selling at an indie craft fair in St. Petersburg.
Rogers, the owner of Canned Ham Vintage in Sarasota’s Rosemary District, used to be that little girl.
“I was always the weird one that liked old things,” said Rogers, now the 25-year-old owner of her own vintage boutique.
The native Sarasotan quit her full-time job at Longboat Key Moorings late last year to follow her dream. That dream was collecting old things ó such as vintage fur coats, record players, gowns and necklaces ó to refurbish and resell.
Rogers comes from a long line of entrepreneurs, and is the last in her immediate family to strike out on her own.
In November, she opened pop-up store on the Boulevard of the Arts in the Rosemary District. The space is hardly bigger than some closets in extravagant homes on Longboat Key, but Rogers said she couldn’t be happier.
Outside, the word “vintage” is written in bright orange paint and cursive lettering across the window. A mannequin stands next to stacked suitcases in the corner. Its outfit changes all the time.
Inside the store, shoppers are greeted by tunes spinning on Roger’s vintage record player, a gift from a family friend when her store opened.
“I treat this like my living room,” Rogers said of the dining room table with four chairs tucked in the front corner of the store.
Behind it are shelves holding an eclectic collection of plates, cups and other home goods that date back to the 1950s and 1960s.
“People come in here and think this isn’t a store but my living room. They feel more comfortable to stay longer that way and we talk about music,” Rogers said.
Rows of vibrant and unique dresses, evening gowns, coats and blouses hang along the back wall of the store.
“What makes this store different is that every piece comes with a story,” Rogers said.
The hunt for vintage
She buys most of her items at auction, but does have shoppers who come in to browse and return to donate their own vintage pieces that are just taking up space in their closets. Just the other day, one woman brought in a vintage tiara.
“We clean everything and refurbish pieces before they’re for sale,” Rogers said. “And you know exactly where the item came from and its history, which you don’t get anywhere else.”
That is all part of the shop’s appeal. Rogers said she wanted to open a store where people could shop, knowing that they will take home something that no one else has.
The shop is part of a natural progression for Rogers but is an unusual retail practice.
“There aren’t too many people doing the pop-up concept now,” said Jeff Green, a retail analyst with Phoenix-based Jeff Green Partners. “It was a bigger deal when the economy was worse. But some brands, like lululemon, are still known for taking on temporary locations in a smaller market to gauge whether or not they want to invest in a full line store.”
Lululemon operated a temporary showroom in Burns Court in downtown Sarasota for more than two years before the company opened a full-line store in October in the Mall at University Town Center.
Rogers’ retail business began on Etsy.com, an online marketplace on which creative entrepreneurs sell what they make or curate.
Sales were strong online, so when a family friend offered to rent Rogers the space in the Rosemary District, she jumped at the chance.
“It’s all going so fast,” Rogers said. “But this is how it goes. I can’t slow down now.”
The store has been open for just a few months and the response has been stellar, Rogers said. Good enough for her “pop-up” shop, which she intended to be temporary, to perhaps become something more concrete. Or not.
“Managing a brick-and-mortar location is a lot of work,” Rogers said. “I always imagined this store being mobile. But I love being apart of the Rosemary District and people are responding so well.”
Meanwile, “mobile” is something Rogers will continue to expand upon.
Late last year, Rogers and her fiance bought a 1960s Shasta Travel Camper whose classic “canned ham” shape inspired the name of her store. She has been renovating the shiny trailer ever since.
“We just took it on a camping outing recently and now we know exactly what it needs,” she said.
This month, Rogers hopes to debut the trailer as a part of her store. it will serve as a mobile boutique, with a fitting room inside and racks for clothes and home decor displays. Rogers said she also will travel all across Florida with it, visiting indie and craft markets like the ones she already frequents in St. Petersburg.
Eventually, she hopes to drive a little farther. Maybe to Tennessee’s Bonaroo Music and Arts Festival in the summer of 2016.
The mobile retail store concept is not new: Creative store owners in bigger markets have been doing it for years.
“But you don’t see anything like this in Sarasota,” Rogers said. “Which is why the storefront in the Rosemary District is still good for us.”
The trailer will make its first appearance at the Le Marche Bohemien, an all-day festival on Feb. 28 at Five Points Selby Park featuring creations by a variety of artists.
Rogers’ retail plan might not be so off-beat, after all.
“Vintage clothing is the best kind of category to pull off a mobile store or pop-up store,” said Green, the retail analyst. “These type of boutique owners have young and very loyal customers. They employ social media to keep marketing costs down and have minimal rent usually by not taking a permanent space.”