Above his home bar hangs Dan Tranquili’s most prized possession: A nine foot long, $10 swordfish that normally sells for hundreds of dollars. If one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, Tranquili, the owner of vintage boutique Pionnier Rétro, is making the most of it by buying second-hand.
“It’s the collecting part [of thrifting] that I like,” Tranquili said. “I shop for the shape, the look [….] You get to meet all kinds of different people and look through their stuff.”
Tranquili is one of eight antique dealers who joined the Marché Underground (MU), a vintage shop collective located at 3731 Notre-Dame Street West in Saint-Henri. The unassuming store, which shares a building with a hair salon, has catered to antique enthusiasts since its official opening in November 2017.
The floor at its entrance is lined with Pac-Man-themed tiles, welcoming shoppers into the shop’s six warmly lit rooms highlighting the trendiest fashions, gadgets, and novelty items of yesteryear.
Each room belongs to a member of the cooperative and features products including endearingly kitsch furniture from Tranquili’s own boutique as well as eclectic items from Quebec vintage stores Retro Barjo, Esprit Vintage, Cheeky Bam, Caribou Vintage, Fringuez Vous, Kapharnaüm, and MU founder Valerie Lalonde’s Mixx Authentik.
“Vintage pickers, we’re kind of bohemian,” Tranquili said. “We’re a hard bunch to get ahold of to get down to business, but [Lalonde] was able to do that.”
Persuading owners to donate their belongings and then resisting the temptation to hoard items are the two biggest challenges Tranquili encounters in his line of work. He recalled how an 85-year-old woman who was moving to a retirement home reluctantly gave him her small, pink, boudoir chair.
“[The woman] started crying,” Tranquili recounted. “I’m not sure if [the chair] meant something to her or more that is was at that moment that she realized that she was moving out of where she lived for the past 65 years [….] Those times are hard [….] You’re looking through the things with them, and they [have memories]. Sometimes, it gets emotional.”
Delphine Prieur, owner of vintage clothing store Cheeky Bam, credited her mother, Marie-Line Briens, owner of Retro Barjo, for sparking her interest in collecting vintage fashion pieces professionally. In her late teens, Prieur scoured church basements in search of unique decorations from the 1960’s and 1970’s until she eventually found her calling.
“I would find objects with a lot of flamingos and florals, things that were really ugly that others didn’t like at the time,” Prieur said. “After a while, I realized that there was a term for [these] things, ‘kitsch’. My mother also had a lot of antiques around the house when I was growing up, and that’s how I became more intrigued about those years.”*
While kitsch fashion is by definition gaudy, Prieur insists that anyone with a good sense of humour can pull off the style tastefully.
“[To wear] kitsch clothing, you have to really own the look,” Prieur said. “You can’t take yourself seriously. If not, you’ll worry about what others think. Kitsch clothes are a statement that says, ‘I’m going to wear whatever I want.’”*
From its wide array of vintage cameras to its collection of 1960’s mod sunglasses, MU offers novelty items for all tastes. In addition, the collective holds seasonal four-day “MEGA” sales, during which a sizeable number of goods cost $15 or less and are restocked after each day. Cégep Saint-Laurent student Jorge Garduno, who discovered the store through social media posts, attended the March 7 mega sale to find secondhand objects with a story.
“It was pure luck that I found [MU],” Garduno said. “We tend to base objects’ significance on their price and shipping costs, instead of the object itself, which is bit of a shame [….MU’s] name is a good reference to older, underground items, in the sense that the store is trying to give [these old objects] a new life.”*
*Quotes translated from French.