G. Fox, Sage Allen, Filene’s, are all on a list of stores we remember and cherish but are now long gone. There used to be Ames stores all over Connecticut and New England and ads for Caldor’s were ubiquitous on our televisions and in newspapers, but now those retailers from a bygone era are showing up on T-shirts.
These retro garments of now defunct retailers are the brainchild of Chet Winnicki, who grew up in Connecticut and created “Local Vyntage,” based in Jamaica Plain, a part of Boston. Winnicki is a UConn alumnus and earned his MBA from Central Connecticut State University.
Winnicki has tapped into the love of nostalgia with some pretty cool designs including the Hartford Civic Center and G. Fox. It isn’t just stores, there is also a WCCC radio shirt, that’s where Howard Stern got his start, and the BritSox. Remember them?
I worked at a couple of department stores that faded away: Zayre’s and Almy’s. Almy’s t-shirts are coming in the spring Chet tells me, but I ordered a Zayre tee in the meantime. Toiling at the big Z was a fun job one summer in college.
I was a store detective at the Zayre’s in Dedham, Massachusetts, near my hometown of Norwood. It was a fascinating experience that taught me plenty about retail, people, and crime.
As I recall, the “loss prevention” team consisted of three or four of us; one at the front door, and the other three spread out across the store and perched in the lookout. This was the 80s, before security cameras were the norm, and the lookout was a concealed area high above the store, where we had a bird’s eye view of the aisles. We also relied on security mirrors.
I liked that job because basically I could wear whatever I wanted, except on days I had to make my presence known and work the entrance. On those days, I would wear a tie and had to do a quick assessment of customers walking through the front doors. If someone was wearing a winter coat in July or was carrying an empty looking backpack, that would qualify as suspicious and we’d keep an eye on them. The hope was that an intimidating stare would discourage any shoplifting, although it didn’t always work.
Often though, I worked incognito. If I was coming to work from the beach, I could wear shorts and a t-shirt, after all store detectives have to blend in with the customers. We would walk around the store, sometimes pushing a shopping cart, while keeping an eye on potential thieves.
There were plenty of them. We caught people who put on clothes in the fitting room and then tried to walk out wearing them. One woman paid for a trunk and didn’t think we’d notice that she’d filled it with goodies. Another tried walking out with a television in the cart, wrongly assuming that we would think that nobody would ever try to steal such a large item. People tried everything, even using their children as decoys. Shoplifting was so widespread, it was impossible to catch everyone.
Oh, the pay? It was hardly lucrative. Minimum wage: $3.75 an hour.
Check out Chet Winnicki’s Local Vyntage: http://www.localvyntage.com
One more thing, I’m due for a post COVID haircut and shave!
Categories: Connecticut history