Whether seeking an Eames lounge chair in rosewood, an Arne Jacobsen egg chair or maybe a vintage lazy Susan relish tray to go with your vintage wine decanter or Dansk flamestone coffee pot, Bill Johnson and Mark Comstock of Retro Vegas will likely have it, if not today, then at some point.
For 11 years, they’ve been selling quality vintage wares on Main Street in the Arts District, opening when the area was struggling and had little foot traffic — a few art galleries and restaurants, but not much else. In the years since, Main Street has flourished with more restaurants, bars, coffee shops, as well as other vintage boutiques and antique stores, prompting Bill to develop an Antique Alley map.
In 2012, they bought a building down the block from their storefront location, moved in, painted it bright pink and stocked it with an astounding collection of teak credenzas, desk chairs, tables, magazine racks and lounges and just about everything else that would deck a house circa 1950s: barware, dinnerware, clocks, lamps, modernist art and collectibles.
Comstock, a former casino dealer, retired in 2004 and Johnson, who worked with the Atomic Testing Museum, then its Historical Foundation, retired in 2007. In early 2008, they opened Retro Vegas, a time when not too many people in town were searching for a Georges Briard tray, a rolling bamboo Tiki bar, drip-glaze lamps or maybe a Hollywood Regency five-tier Lucite chandelier. Today, things are different and Bill and Marc are a downtown success story.
Q: Why leave retirement to open a business?
Marc: Well, we got bored. We bought an RV (recreational vehicle) took a big road trip.
Bill: We went all the way to Key West.
Marc: On the road for 90 days.
Bill: And, it was great. Oh, my god, we had so much fun. And then when we got back, we were bored. We looked at opening a bar in Commercial Center.
Marc: We looked at opening a bunch of different businesses.
Bill: We looked at laundromats. We looked at convenience stores. And, independently, I started thinking about a resale store. I was thinking of stuff you’d buy at a yard sale and then resell it, a kind of yard sale store. I said something to Mark after a couple of days, “He says, ‘I’ve been thinking about a resale store, too.’ ” Once we decided on the theme, we were focusing on midcentury.
Marc: Midcentury (here) wasn’t that big a deal, then.
Bill: The only other store was Modify.
How long had you been collecting?
Marc: We’ve both been doing it about 30 years. We were always into midcentury modern.
Bill: In the early 1980s, my brother and I moved into a triplex in Coconut Grove. The first thing I said was, “Oh, cool. It has terrazzo floors.’ My brother is like, ‘Why do you care?’ I said, ‘Because that’s actually kind of from the time period, the 1950s, 1960s.’ That’s the first (time) I realized I was into midcentury.
Marc: His mother was always a big collector of really good pieces back in the day.
Bill: From the time period.
Mark: Late 1950s, early 1960s
Bill: She had a Paul McCobb dining set. Stuff that we cherish today as part of our inventory
What does your own house look like?
Bill: Our house is a 1953 tract home in the neighborhood of Crestwood. Our dining room table is Paul Evans brutalist with his signature on the furniture. It’s all brass tiles. The chairs are Milo Baughman. The sofa is like a Bahama bed.
You opened at a precarious time economically, how was business in the beginning?
Marc: You know, that first year there weren’t a whole lot of customers. There was nothing, especially after the market collapsed. At the end of 2008, nothing was open here.
Bill: There were days that maybe three people would come in the store. That whole thing about competition, it all works for the better for everybody. You don’t want to be the only island out here.
Marc: With every place that has opened on the street our business has increased almost double.
What are people into buying now?
Bill: Most of our customers are collectors that will do West Elm stuff, but they want original pieces here and there.
So they don’t take the full plunge?
Bill: Some people do and they do it over a long period of time. I’ve got repeat customers that come in all the time, but they take their time.
What would you say to someone who wanted to start collecting?
Marc: I’d say, ‘Take your time.’
Bill: And select something that you really like and then build around that. Whether it’s a piece of art, your sofa or your dining table. Whatever it is you’re starting with, choose your starting piece and go.
Retro Vegas, 1131 S. Main St., in the Arts District, 11 a.m.- 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, noon-5 p.m., Sunday, 702-384-2700.