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Vintage Decades store hangs it up

Downtown clothier, other tenants make way for new hotel


by: COURTESY OF DICK TRTEK - John Cosgrove, owner of Decades in downtown Portland, helps customer Ellen Bartholomew try on a vintage Bakelite necklace. The popular vintage clothing store will be closing April 26.After more than 17 years in the same Southwest Stark Street space, Decades, a vintage clothing and accessories store, is closing on April 26.

Owner John Cosgrove says a developer has purchased the building, and all the tenants,

except for Huber’s Restaurant, must vacate the premises by the end of this month, to make way for a new boutique hotel.

“It was a huge blow to see the ‘Epic Sale’ sign on the window. I immediately knew something wasn’t right, and after talking to John I had to lean on the counter a bit to absorb the news and sudden feeling of loss. His shop was the model for Portland vintage, and the city is really losing a gem here,” says Don Barnes, a customer since 1996.

Cosgrove and vintage clothing go all the way back to the 1980s, when he started wearing Eisenhower and boxy Ricky jackets to school, and later wore vintage ties to work in his job as a camera salesman.

In the early ‘90s Cosgrove was looking for a way to make extra cash while he was in junior college studying graphic design, so he started wholesaling to vintage stores in the area. When he graduated from Portland Community College, one of the dealers he sold to hired him as a salesperson and buyer.

After three years of doing that, Cosgrove felt like he had a good enough working knowledge of vintage clothing and antiques to strike out on his own, and Decades was born.

“I made it my mission to try and fix everything I felt was wrong with other vintage stores. I had everything dry cleaned and pressed; I refused to sell anything with a stain or a hole. I created a welcome shopping environment that was easily shopped and didn’t have to be ‘dug through,’” Cosgrove said.

“I’ve had some really amazing items in the past 17 years. There are a couple of hand-embroidered purses currently on my website that I feel are extraordinary. I’ve had everything from an 18th century reticule, to a Civil War belt, to a 1940s Hawaiian shirt, beautifully hand-painted with a topless island beauty.”

As for famous-name labels, he has seen Christian Dior, Hermes, Schiaparelli, Molyneux and countless other pieces of designer clothing and jewelry come into his shop, he says.

And then there are the stories.

“Director Todd Haynes was in the store looking for something to wear to Cannes when his movie ‘I’m Not There’ came out. I sold him a jacket and also sewed up one he had already,” Cosgrove says.

Another time he had a quintessential piece of 1950s men’s clothing.

“I’d purchased it from an East Coast picker who’d found me online in the very early days of the Internet. It was a black gabardine Ricky jacket with pink trim and a matching pair of pants. It had a brand label I hadn’t seen before; it said ‘Styled by Vito.’ ”

Then rockabillies, vintage enthusiasts and vintage dealers got word of it and would drop into the store to see the set. There was quite a buzz around it, and people would come in to “worship at the altar of the rockabilly Holy Grail,” Cosgrove said.

“I’d set the price quite low for national standards, but the Portland market just wasn’t ready to step up. One summer day, a gentleman came in who was opening for Bonnie Raitt. His name was Rick Vito and he had just come out with an album titled ‘Pink and Black.’ My pink and black Ricky jacket made by Vito couldn’t have found a better home.”

Barnes says he and his wife, Carol, have built their wardrobes around pieces that called out to them from the racks at Decades; pieces that were always clean and pressed and looking sharp.

“My wardrobe of suits for work was based on suits from Decades. If I was in the market for a ‘look,’ Decades became stop numero uno. My hat collection is 75 percent Decades: great Stetsons and straws; classic narrow ties and bow ties from the 1960s.”

His favorite suit from Decades is an early 1960s or late 1950s black with white flecks. Another favorite piece is a minimalist tie bar from the 1960s, which is perfect for narrow ties and that whole look, Barnes says.

“My collection of vintage is now employed in the music world and is the base for a 1960s aesthetic to support the era of jazz that I love to play,” he says, noting that he is a member of a combo called Mark and Don Play Jazz.

Ellen Bartholomew, who recently retired from the Multnomah County Health Department, says she has been a customer at Decades since Cosgrove opened.

“I’d walk in and John would say ‘I have a jacket looking for you,’” she says, noting that most of her purchases were classic, stylish vintage jackets that she wore to work.

Cosgrove has been looking for a suitable retail space, but so far hasn’t found anything affordable in a good location. In the meantime, Decades will continue to sell online at http://www.decadesvintage.com/index.shtml and at Decades Vintage On Etsy,

http://www.etsy.com/shop/DecadesVintage OnEtsy.

Decades, 328 S.W. Stark St., will be open until April 26. Call 503-223-1177 for more information.