AVONDALE — Jen Kelly spent 20 years working in retail, always with a dream of opening her own shop.
After being laid off from Uber last year, she decided it was time to take the leap to build a business around her obsession with vintage clothes. Her shop, Vintage Frills at 2846 N. Milwaukee Ave., opened Friday.
“It was always in the back of my head, in a tiny little corner. I really didn’t think it was possible. I was like, ‘I’ll just do this. This is fine. I’ll get my benefits and my discounts. I’m around beautiful clothes,'” she said of her retail jobs. “But after COVID, that’s when I had time to process that this is truly what I want to do.”
Vintage Frills is filled with clothes Kelly finds at estate sales — everything from ’70s dresses to ’90s sweatshirts — as well as funky kitchen items and other housewares. It’s also stocked with The Vintage Royalty jewelry, vintage clothing from Choice Edition and retro furniture.
Kelly said for as long she’s worked in retail, she’s been drawn to vintage clothing and accessories.
“I love the fact that … not only does every piece have its own story, it’s really quality merchandise,” she said. “A lot of it is made in the [United States]. It stands the test of time. [With] fast fashion, it’s all made it these other countries and it doesn’t last at all.”
When it comes to vintage clothing, Kelly said she doesn’t look for specific shapes and sizes, but rather pieces that fit the vibe of a certain era. She picks out every item for the shop.
“I love to find ’70s stuff because that really speaks to millennials, ’90s stuff because that speaks to Gen Z,” she said.
Most of the clothes and housewares are arranged in color-coded alcoves, like the blue room and the red room. Kelly said she learned that technique working for fast-fashion giant Old Navy.
“When people come in, they’re really intrigued by that aspect. Each room has its own vibe,” she said.
Vintage Frills sits on a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that has struggled to attract retail and development but is beginning to bounce back.
The Kay Shoes building at 2839 N. Milwaukee Ave. is being redeveloped into apartments and ground-floor retail. Bric a Brac record shop is moving to 2843 N. Milwaukee Ave., and the owners are opening an adjoining coffee shop. A developer has received approval to rehab a vacant six-unit apartment building at 2901 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Though Kelly’s thrilled to have landed in a growing pocket of Avondale, she said that was never the plan.
A lifelong South Sider, Kelly wanted to convert a pink school bus into a mobile vintage shop. She was also looking into opening a shop in Hyde Park, just 10 minutes from where she lives, but the rents were “astronomical,” she said.
She switched gears when she stumbled upon the Avondale storefront while driving around the city with her sister one day last year, she said.
It helped that the store already had the partitions she was after.
“My plan was to have tiny rooms for each color story. This store literally had four cubbies. I was like, ‘Oh my God, where did this come from?'” she said.
Vintage Frills is open noon-5 p.m. daily except Tuesday. Kelly also recently launched a mobile shop, called The Vintage Fleet, which will travel to neighborhoods across the city.
Kelly said she and her family are moving to the North Side as she settles into life as an Avondale shop owner.
“It’s really, really sweet, and I like it a lot,” she said of the neighborhood.
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