Yesterday afternoon, I sat down with Jeff and Kelly, the couple who operates Portland’s own Vintage Roadside, a company that offers up fabulous t-shirts baring graphics from good ol’ American roadside locations ranging from the bizarre to the motor court.
Tucked away in the corner of Hollywood’s Moon and Sixpence, I discovered where the couple got their idea to start Vintage Roadside, “I think it was road tripping,” responded Kelly, “We saw that these mom and pop places were disappearing.” Their business is not just to offer up fun shirts to wear, it is also a historical preservation effort as well, “We do historical preservation events and give talks,” adding that this is an effort to educate, support and preserve a time period in America that is rapidly disappearing.
Each has their favorite part of the job experience as well. Jeff enjoys meeting people who were at the locations they select for their shirts, such as family members, past employees, combined with the photography that he does during the road trips that the couple does. For Kelly it’s the research and discovering the stories behind these designs, “it’s like a treasure hunt,” Kelly said. Additionally the couple shared that they enjoy the fact that their business brings a wide range of people, “It’s so broad. We’ll do a tiki event then a historical preservation event, and then a hot rod/burlesque event…we sell to professors one moment, then we’re selling to burlesque dancers.”
Kelly is deeply involved in the research portion of their company. Since all of the designs for VR are real locations, they try to learn as much as possible about the location. Not only do they discover and talk to people who were there, but they use on-line databases, historical societies, newspaper archives and even digitized menu records of food venues. Sometimes printing a shirt jump starts the research, “When we produce a shirt, it’s really the beginning – people find us and we get stories.” People see the shirts, or get a link to VR’s site from someone, and “We discover people who say their uncle operated that place, or that was the place to hang out after the football game.”
Jeff and Kelly express that they are motivated by “being able to tell the stories of these forgotten places…each of these places was someone’s dream.” Jeff and Kelly also use their shirts to promote awareness about mid-century roadside and architecture. “Take the Pagoda for example that was here [in the Hollywood district],” Jeff said for a local example, “which is now gone.” Jeff and Kelly emphasize supporting the mom and pops that are still around. “We want to focus on the importance of historic preservation and it can be as simple as going to eat at a mom and pop.” VR customers are part of the fun as well, “We’ll have regular customers who come in and say ‘I need a new story’…we become guerrilla historians”.
When asked if VR had a goal or mission, they said that it was to raise awareness. “[It's] for people to appreciate what’s out there…encourage people to see things differently – look at their community differently,” Kelly shared, “We feel that [roadside] is real – it’s happening now. It’s not kitch…it’s a story and someone’s life.”
One day, Jeff and Kelly hope to have a roadside museum full of large fiberglass advertisement pieces, signs and ephemera, but for the time being, Jeff and Kelly are enjoying their time learning about America’s mom and pops, documenting the locations and sharing the stories of the fun and offbeat places that is Vintage Roadside.
To learn more about VR, read their stories, and purchase t-shirts, please visit their site here.