Shop Local: Tucson Edition
Even though I wasn't born in Tucson (*ahem* Yuma), I spent most of my formative years there. From 7th grade through college graduation, Tucson was home and when people ask me where I'm from I proudly tell them, "Tucson" despite living in MInneapolis for almost 10 years now. Home, to me, is where you feel most relaxed, most yourself and most nostalgic.
Mostly, Tucson is a place that remains, comfortably, the same. Although, it has become a massive spot for retired folks relocating from the east coast as well as a reprieve for people looking to leave the high priced California real estate market. This changes the demographics and politics of what used to be a purely hippie, artsy, safe and insular community a bit. Tucson has long been the only major democratic city in a state awash in a sea of red. Tucson was into environmental protection long before Al Gore got on our case, shopping local well before heritage became a trend and pro-vintage everything when most people called vintage "used goods." Tucson recognized the civil unions of same sex couples before my current, very liberal home of Minneapolis did. A peace loving people largely against guns and very accepting of immigrants, Tucson was a bit of a utopia. In the 90's people thought of Tucson as crunchy and granola. Now people think of it as the ultimate hipster community. However, to me, Tucson mostly remains the same...Tucson.
While my husband and I fantasize about moving back to Tucson and buying a territorial style home, that will likely remain a dream for a while. (Although I do keep a Territorial Fantasy Pinterest page with decor and styling ideas just in case.) The heat is too much for me to bear personally and we enjoy having seasons. In addition, my allergies in Tucson as much worse than anywhere else which is weird considering it is a desert. (The dust can be a killer though.) My mom still lives in Tucson and this past fall saw my 20th high school reunion come and go. So while in town for the event, I decided to revisit not only my old favorites (Eegees, Rosa's, and Guadalajara Grill) but set out to discover the new gems that have popped up in the city since I left in 2000.
Following are a list of 3 stores I discovered, and in one case rediscovered, while visiting. In addition to my own photos I've selected 3 products from each store that I think is worth a look and a purchase. I highly recommend you visiting the following retailers if you ever find yourself in the Old Pueblo...with an Eegee's in hand.
Bon is a mother-daughter owned boutique located in South Tucson's Barrio Viejo neighborhood. Sharing a mutual love for all things "well designed and well made" the duo successfully curate a cohesive store filled with home goods to clothing...and everything in between. The store, and the products Bon offers, has a decidedly rustic feel. Lots of white paint, worn denim, rainbow hued serapes, pre-loved planters and plants of all shapes and sizes give the space a homey, Mexican-colonial, lived-in-feel. However, Bon carefully toes the line between vintage and modern offering stationary tinged with neon colors and Hugo Guinness framed prints. Bon carries hard to find brands like Coral & Tusk whose embroidered home goods are almost too cute to use as well as vintage Levi's. (Who doesn't want the "Chipmunk Love" or the "Arctic Tree" Tea Towels in linen?) The store is a perfect study in the art of mixing eras, colors and brands to create a unique feel and personal sense of style.
3 Things @ Bon
Avenue boutique is located in the midtown area of Tucson off of Broadway and is owned by the delightful Alexis Mosij. Alexis was working when I visited so I got to meet her and learn more about both her, the store and the Tucson retail scene in general. A wealth of information, probably because she's had her own store since the tender age of 18, Alexis is a retail renaissance woman. Not only does she have an incredible taste (Avenue carries thoroughly modern brands like LA based knitwear company Callahan and artisan designed, sustainable clothing by Voz) but she also hand makes a lot of the jewelry featured in the store as well. (See the Tucson pin below as one of my 3 Things choices. Alexis cast it from a vintage plastic pin she found and I brought it back to MN with me.)
While mostly focusing on apparel, Avenue also has a small selection of stellar home goods like the Florin brass mirror by Roost and the Momo wool blanket, both of which I lusted after. Alexis's innate sense of classic / modern design really shines through via her product selection in Avenue. She also uses her highly stylized eye to find vintage pieces she seamlessly incorporates with new goods on the sales floor. While not from the same makers, or even the same era, one would be hard pressed to be able to discern what was new and what was vintage in the boutique. Tucson is a land of excellent vintage...however there is so much vintage it could take years and years to comb through to find that one perfect thing. That's why I love store owners like Alexis who do the hunt for you to find pieces that fit in with items you already have in your closet.
In addition, Alexis does care about how things are made- a huge bonus in my book. While most contemporary boutiques focus on cheap, fast fashion labels, the vast majority of brands Avenue carries are ethical and responsible manufacturers like Ace & Jig and Baggu. Some of the companies Avenue carries also focused on sustainable goods and practices, like Voz. Avenue reminds me of a lot of local MN boutiques in that it stocks goods that are made to last. While the result of carrying such lines is a higher price point, that is a price most native Tucsonans (who are ethically and environmentally minded) are willing to pay. A "must" visit store, prepare for some difficult decisions as you narrow down your needs vs. wants!
3 Things @ Avenue
Located smack in the heart of the downtown, Fourth Avenue area of Tucson, Desert Vintage isn't a new store but rather a reimagined one. Originally founded in 1974, Desert Vintage existed in the same exact location when I lived in Tucson. I remember spending hours there as my younger sister, whose body was made for vintage, would cruising rack after rack of top notch vintage pieces. Side note: She mainly wore very feminine, floral print dresses from the 1950's during her sophomore year of high school. The vast majority of said dresses came from Desert Vintage. It was a very French / Audrey Hepburn in the 50's look. So much so that a classmate once asked me who the 'French foreign exchange student' I drove to school every day was. It took me a few seconds to realize he meant my sister. The look was certainly foreign by mid-90's fashion standards.
The Desert Vintage of today, however, is not very similar to the one I remember from the 90's and that's for good reason. The current owners took control of the store in July 2012 with "...the desire to curate and undeniably stylish and eclectic mix of true vintage items for both men and women." With goods spanning from the turn of the century through the 1970's, one would think the store would lack cohesion, however, that's not the case. The current owners have done an excellent job truly curating the pieces they find. Their aesthetic is very minimalistic yet they find pieces like a heavily beaded flapper dress from the 1920's and somehow make it look modern and clean. That's no easy feat.
The selection in the store is much more edited than the Desert Vintage I remember. It feels a bit restrained but in a very good way. You don't feel overwhelmed or like you are digging through someone's old closet to find something. It has much more of a 'shopping a high end boutique in SoHo' sort of feel. Case in point, the front window design when I visited gave me serious Isabel Marant vibes. The owners seem particularly adept at finding stellar pieces from the 1920's through the 1940's. From no label to Yves Saint Laurent and Chloe, the store is not about designers or brands. It is about pieces that are timeless and look great no matter what decade you're in.
I really enjoyed revisiting an updated Desert Vintage. It should be noted that the e-commerce site is much more limited in terms of what's offered for sale compared to the goods they have in store. (This is also the case with Bon.) And if you can't make it there, make sure your are refreshing their page often because new goods posted sell out in a flash.