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Getting Lost at Top Shelf Vintage Company: An Interview with Annie

If you live in Rhode Island and you haven’t visited Annie and Doug at Top Shelf Vintage must. Top Shelf is not just a store, but a destination, tucked into Pawtucket Rhode Island. I had the pleasure of chatting with and interviewing the owner Annie, and she was nothing short of amazing. Annie is warm, funny, welcoming and so kind (“too nice”, as she describes herself). And her shop? Full to the brim with vintage clothes, shoes, accessories, and other goodies. Truly, there are items hanging from the ceiling; every inch is covered and colorful and just so much fun to look at.

"The best part of being a small business owner? Definitely the connection with straight-up rando’s. With strangers."

Annie has always had a love for vintage clothing and her skill for selling started young. “I’ve been selling since I was a sophomore in high school,” Annie says, explaining that she was always in thrift stores and loved to find pieces that maybe weren’t right for her, but a friend would love. This is what got the ball rolling for Annie, who started out selling vintage clothing to friends and online. Today she has this beautiful business; a building she and her partner Doug have been in for two years. “Two years and still getting new faces in every day, so it’s fun.” You can tell that Annie really enjoys the connectivity of it all and finds genuine joy in meeting new people. She even pinpoints this as the best part of being a small business owner. “The best part is definitely the connection,” she says, “with straight-up rando’s. With strangers.”

It’s clear to me that the feeling must be mutual for her customers; Annie is a ray of light, constantly laughing and radiating a genuine joy for what she does. “There’s a smidge of connection you get from it,” she says when explaining her favorite thing about vintage clothing. “If you see someone wearing something dope that’s vintage, you’re gonna be like ‘whoa’...” she adds, as we enthusiastically discuss the ability that vintage clothing gives us to express ourselves in a way that is completely different from the people around us.

Annie takes a simple approach to picking the pieces that she displays in her store; “Honestly, just what I like.” She explains that she and her partner function on the idea “If you’re gonna buy it, you gotta love it forever” explaining that if no one ever buys it, they are stuck with it, so it better be great. “If you love it, you can gas it up,” she adds, giving some insight into her selling process. Annie is passionate about the pieces she puts in her shop, and she truly wants to help her customers find something special that they feel equally passionate about. She is her happiest when she gets to play dress-up for twenty minutes with a person that comes into her shop.

"They just want somewhere to hang out,

so this is a great spot"

When asked about her best ever find, she told me a story of a customer that came in and mentioned that her daughter had customized some clothes in the 90s. Annie went to their home and looked through an amazing collection of denim jeans and jackets, all hand-painted. “The whole collection is cartoon characters,” Annie explains, clearly in her element; “She even signed and dated them special.” She gets particularly excited when explaining that the collection is full of characters like Betty Boop and Donald Duck. She loves this collection because it’s the same stuff she grew up on. In her rainbow turtleneck and denim overalls, Annie is a little like a cartoon herself, explaining that she will probably never grow up. She has sold some of these pieces and has a few more hanging around; One piece is on display in the shop right now. This collection isn’t her favorite because it’s a fancy brand, or worth a lot of money, but because of the nostalgia element, and the customization. “No one else is going to have those,” She says. “Nostalgia is always good vibes. So we love it.” She says later, talking about the best parts of being a small business owner. The worst? Covid-19.

Like a lot of businesses, they had to shut down for several months and get back to their online roots for selling their vintage goods. The good part about having the online element though, she explains, is that there are always clients. With her clients back and visiting the store safely, Annie and Doug are able to engage again with the city that Annie lovingly refers to as “ of the reasons I love it, honestly.” She is also quite happy with Pawtucket’s diversity. The variety of customers that make it to the store keep things interesting, and in this sleepy city, Annie says “they just want somewhere to hang out, so this is a great spot.” Her favorite client? We laughed for a bit. She explained the person that walks in, arms folded, does a loop and swiftly leaves. In between laughs she says, mimicking her experience with people like this, “I’m just like, ‘love you!’ ‘bye!’” On a more serious note, she also loves the customers that lend to that sense of connection, and that are complete strangers she may have never met in any other setting.

These days, Annie is running day-by-day, sometimes week-by-week, giving kudos to her fellow small business owners that are “out there still making moves.” She and her partner would love to host more outside events in 2021 and even have sidewalk sales! With a business like this (one that is not deemed essential) Annie muses that they stay successful because of nostalgia. “It’s that nostalgia vibe,” she explains, “People are unreal addicted to nostalgia. As am I.” And what a cool way she has found to supply that in a dark time! “If you can supply that in any way, that’s at least doing something.” And she certainly is doing something worthwhile. I couldn’t leave before taking several laps around the store and buying an outfit that supplied me with the very good vibes she spoke of again and again throughout our interview. So if you’re looking for a bit of nostalgia, a warm welcome, some laughs, and a cool new addition to your wardrobe--look no further than Top Shelf Vintage Company.

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