Salvage Goes Glam in Vintage Stores
Walking into Atomic Garage is like traveling back in time. You won’t find any CDs here, just shelf after shelf of LP records. Want an authentic Motley Crue tour shirt? Or is KISS more your style? The friendly sales staff will be happy to dress you up in a glamorous ’70s pantsuit, if you like, or make you sweat in some double knit polyester. Complete your outfit with over-the-top costume jewelry that will get you attention in any crowd. Step out of your comfort zone and into a time machine of treasures.
If the saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” weren’t already over-used, I would suggest it be the slogan for Steve Mumma’s many green businesses. As owner of A OK Antiques and tag sales, Atomic Blond Mid-Century Modern Gallery Loft, and Atomic Garage Valley Junction Vintage Clothing Store, Mumma focuses on preserving usable goods by selling them for reuse in imaginative ways.
Since opening his first business in 1987, in West Des Moines’ historic Valley Junction (Iowa), Mumma has diverted tons of vintage clothing and household items from the landfill. That alone is an important service to the community. But, in Mumma’s view, just as important, he’s motivated by the desire to keep a piece of our history alive.
Support — or, rather, “trash” — from the community is the cornerstone of Mumma’s success. If not for people wanting to clean house and get rid of things, or the fact that our earthly possessions are just that, earthly possessions (you really can’t take them with you), A OK Antiques and Atomic Garage would have no merchandise on the shelves.
How is Mumma’s business model any different from places like Goodwill or the Salvation Army? “The thing that sets me apart from the Salvation Army-type of stores is that I have always had a very discerning eye for the things that are collectible from every era, as well as a passion for looking for the unusual. I have a very strict quality control process,” Mumma says.
Mumma’s tag-sale business, which he operates under the same name as his antique store, A OK, even more directly promotes the reuse of household items. A tag sale is similar to an estate sale, but without auctioneers.
The great thing about a tag sale is that it is all-inclusive, selling everything the owner has left behind, not picking through for valuables like an auctioneer might do. “I put stuff directly back into users’ hands. Then they don’t have to buy new,” Mumma says.
All linens, kitchenware, tools, cleaning supplies, chemicals, even notepads are given a chance to find new homes. Afterward, tag sale leftovers either find their way to A OK or Atomic Garage, or end up at Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Mumma’s goal is to have as little as possible end up in the landfill.
“I look at older things from a design standpoint,” Mumma says. He’s standing in Atomic Blond, a showcase of art-deco furniture and mid-century art. When scouting for items to sell in A OK, he says, “I look for elements of the ’50s and ’60s. I end up finding something that is a lot like things being made today,”
This is especially true in the fashion world, where trends reoccur from decade to decade. Clothing today mimics styles designed in the ’60s and ’70s by luminaries such as Emilio Pucci, and furniture mimics a style from the late ’50s and early ’60s, first introduced by Herman Miller, Charles Eames, and Heywood Wakefield.
Instead of re-using the original items that inspired today’s designers, the tendency is to create similar items and produce more waste. This mindset is starting to change throughout the United States, largely due to store owners like Mumma, who make it possible to have the real thing.
“I go to shows in places such as Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City, Miami, and San Francisco,” Mumma says, when I ask him about his connections nationally.
“Vintage is making a comeback as fashionable, and many cities have showcases where vendors can display some of their nicest ‘trash,’” he says. “These venues are great places to add unique items to the things I buy in West Des Moines.”
Mumma plans to showcase his furniture at the Miami Modernism Show and Sale, January 23-25, 2009. But this week, you can find Mumma at San Francisco’s Deco the Halls, December 6&7, 2008 at the Concourse Exhibition Center.
If you miss him there, hop in your VW van and boogie on down to see Mumma at the Atomic Garage, A OK, or Atomic Blond in West Des Moines. But be prepared, you may walk out wearing bell bottoms, a Grateful Dead t-shirt, and love beads. You might even make a couple extra dollars by selling him your great uncle’s Leo’s favorite leisure suit.
One more thing, the shops are so retro, they don’t even have a website. Contact Mumma at AtomicBlond@msn.com.