Vintanthromodern Waves A Bittersweet Goodbye

 Melissa Gonzales: “I didn’t want to be quiet about it.” Lucy Gellman Photos. 

Melissa Gonzales: “I didn’t want to be quiet about it.” Lucy Gellman Photos. 

Melissa Gonzales is saying goodbye to her East Rock storefront after three years—but may not be gone from the neighborhood for long. 

That’s the story for Vintanthromodern, a vintage store and craft hub at 938 State St. that is closing after a little over three years in business. At the end of February, Gonzales announced via social media that the store would be shutting its doors at the end of March, when her lease runs out. 

“In like a lamb, out like a lion,” she wrote. “It seems like just yesterday we opened the doors to our little slice of vintage and handmade heaven here in New Haven, and we've certainly loved every minute of it.“

But her reasons for closing the store, she said in an interview at the shop Sunday afternoon, are entirely happy ones. Vintanthromodern opened in October 2014, as a collaboration with Project Storefronts and landlords Bob and Susan Frew called the Haven Collective. At the time, Project Storefronts helped subsidize the space’s $1,500 rent for the first three months, then Gonzales was on her own. 

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At the time, Gonzales was known for her Vintanthromobile—a squat schoolbus filled with vintage clothes that showed up at flea markets, craft fairs and Christmas fests of yore at New Haven’s Union Station. After her move into the 2,234 square foot storefront, she sold the Vintanthromobile. Then she hunkered down on the East Rock business, sourcing vintage clothes that would fit women of many different shapes and sizes. It was a delicate balancing act with her full-time job as an art teacher at Hamden High, but she made it work.      

In three years, she said she’s been massively successful—“more than I could have hoped for.” From the first months on, she turned a profit selling vintage clothes, adding locally made crafts and jewelry to her collection as the business grew. A year ago, she took on the first floor’s back room, able to afford the extra $500 per month in rent. Gonzales said utilities were an extra $600 on top of that, which made things more expensive but not impossible. 

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Then last year, she was preparing to have her second baby, and needed an extra hand around the store. Rent had also increased by $600 for the entire year—an extra $50 each month—to keep up with rising property values around the neighborhood. She hired an assistant named Alisa D’Andrea to run the shop while she was out on maternity leave. Co-founder and owner of the doll-making company Bash Petite, D’Andrea floored Gonzales with her work ethic.

“When I was out, she treated the store as if it was her own,” Gonzales recalled. “She has been amazing. Like, literally unlike anyone else … it’s rare to find someone who has what it takes to make a small business work.”

When Gonzales returned to work, she found that the store had still been making money—but not as much as before. A new mom, she had less time to dedicate to finding vintage clothes, getting them ready for the shop, listening to customers as they filtered through. She’d spent money on D’Andrea’s labor that she couldn’t continue to afford for much longer. And so she started thinking about what she wanted her life to look like. 

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“This has kind of been my side hustle,” Gonzales said, sitting on a couch upholstered in yellow velvet. “While I was out on maternity leave, I wasn’t putting as much into the business as I had been … and so when I first came back—the business was still making money but it wasn’t as profitable as it had been—I’m like: I’m missing out on my family a lot.”

“I had to weigh out my options,” she said. “I’m not closing because it’s not making money. It’s definitely making money. I’m closing because the amount of money I’m making just doesn’t really match the sacrifice that I’m having to make in terms of time with family.” 

Reached by phone Sunday night, landlord Susan Frew said she will be sad to see Gonzales go. 

“I think that she added something on the street,” Frew said. “It was wonderful to have a vintage shop on State Street. It’s kind of sad to see her go, but she told me that she’s a teacher, and she has a baby … She had to make some decisions.” 

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Frew added that there has been interest in the space, meaning that the storefront, which is zoned for retail, may not be vacant for long. Gonzales said she hopes that another store moves in, because the area is already saturated with food and drink. 

“I think East Rock needs more retail,” she said, mentioning Vintanthromodern’s distance from Fashionista on Whitney Avenue and Civvies downtown. “It doesn’t really need any more salons or restaurants or bars. I think the positive response to this has been because it is retail, and there’s nothing else like it.”

But Gonzales isn’t seeing this as her last vintage rodeo either, she said. Recently, someone approached her about taking over the shop. Gonzales said they met, and the person realized “it wasn’t for them.” But when Gonzales was talking to D’Andrea about the conversation, the two started throwing the idea of partnership around. 

“Alisa and I were like: ‘Why don’t we partner up and do something?’” she recalled. “I was like ‘We can do that, but it can’t be here.’ I made the decision. I can’t do what I’m doing here by myself.”

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As Vintanthromodern closes its doors later this month, Gonzales said she and D’Andrea are “kind of in negotiations about what a future project might look like.” 

Gonzales said they would like to be in East Rock or Westville, where she has already worked closely with Strange Ways owner Alex Dakoulas. 

“Definitely much smaller than this,” she cautioned. “But definitely the key is that it would be two people working toward a common goal. We have a real common aesthetic, vision, work ethic.” 

On Sunday, customers trickled into the store, kids in tow. Racks still stood crammed with sweaters, houndstooth jackets, the occasional paisley bathrobe in the corner. Sun filtered through the front windows, where mannequins are still perched in wool sweaters and skirts with novelty prints. Gonzales looked totally at ease behind the register.

As she rang a customer up, she walked them through March’s “farewell” sales, culminating in a “fill-a-bag” blowout on March 30. 

“I didn’t want to be quiet about it,” she said after they had left with a new vintage mug. “I wanted people to know that we’re not leaving because of failure. This is a very calculated, well thought-out decision."