Morgan Brown ‘17, Julia Knepper ‘17 – Often times, the shops in downtown Romeo are overlooked and underappreciated. Even students who live in the area and attend Romeo High School have never stepped foot in any of these stores. Unbeknownst to the majority of the community, there are treasures hidden in each and every store downtown, one just simply has to step inside to see.
When entering downtown Romeo, Town Hall Antiques is hard to miss. The three story building is packed from wall to wall with vintage items, dating no later than 1969. The store cherishes the value of antiques, claiming that these items do not lose their value over time. All items hold great integrity and are made with materials rarely seen today. The stuffed shelves of handmade items prove the common statement, “things just aren’t made like they used to,” true. The mall features a wide variety of items that are, “usable as well as collectible,” in the words of an employee.
Many use these antique items to incorporate into modern home decor, for a “shabby-chic” look, or to fill their home with unique items that truly tell a story.
“I don’t think people understand what is in here,” an employee at the shop said. “They think it is all old, musty stuff, but we have diamonds and rubies, coins for coin collectors, furniture, glassware, and more.”
Forty dealers work at the store, with a few coming in each day of the week, so there is constant assistance available for customers and sellers. Each employee is dedicated to and fascinated with their work. In fact, one worker’s first and last job was in the antique mall. The shop displays furniture from various decades of the 1900’s, glass figurines, old books, and “penny” candy, among other items.
Though the selection of decorations is not for everyone, the shop brings a sense of history and an appreciation for vintage items.
Ms. Vera Brandt started her shop, Vera’s Balloons-R-Fun, eighteen years ago at its present location in the middle of downtown Romeo. Though the shop earned its named by simply selling balloons, it has recently expanded to include novelties and classic candy.
“Most of the kids come for the candies and novelties,” Brandt said. “There’s a lot of different gifts for birthdays and things like that.”
Featuring games, toys, stuffed animals, and of course, balloons, the shop appeals mostly to children. However, especially for people in Romeo, the shop has made some specialty items that appeal to people with pride in their town, regardless of age.
The shop recently ordered a specialized, red, neon clock, with a Romeo Bulldog on its face, as well as a stuffed bulldog with a blanket for a body. The adorable items show off Romeo pride like no other shop around.
While many rush down to the supermarket to find a gift for their children or a young birthday party, Vera’s is packed with adorable, quality made, and collector children’s items that are hard to come by elsewhere. And it’s right downtown!
Ms. Mary Virga, the owner of The Secret Closet, takes pride in the store’s small, down-to-earth atmosphere. With clothing, shoes, and jewellry, the shop offers a variety of affordable, cute styles for women. Virga transformed the original building into a more modern, contemporary setting. She has faced criticisms for the way she sets up her store, but doesn’t let such comments hinder her.
“I’m going to start my business on my own terms and in my own way,” Virga said.
Virga receives about five calls per day from people wishing to give her items to sell in her store. She’s picky about which things she takes, but she claims that her selective attitude keeps the store stocked with quality items and provides a better shopping experience.
The affordability of The Secret Closet is what keeps drawing customers back to become frequent shoppers. From brand name boots to bed frames, the prices leave customers in awe.
“The pricing here is based on how I would like to shop,” Virga said. “I like to go into a store and get a really good item for a good price.”
I have gone into the Secret Closet and come out with Eddie Bauer ankle boots for under $15 and Vans shoes for $8 in brand new condition. The prices for these brand name items continue to amaze me.
A unique feature of Virga’s shop is the racks of seemingly brand new prom and homecoming dresses. With her selective nature comes an excellent selection of dresses offered for a fraction of their normal price. Virga claims she could sell these jeweled gowns for over double the price, but again wants to create the most enjoyable shopping experience. Virga helps many girls on the hunt exit her shop with a smile and a full wallet.
According to Virga, the business is booming, and her clientele continuously expands to fit more and more people from the Romeo area. Though Virga has had many opportunities to leave and join a larger strip mall, she loves the tight-knit, connected atmosphere of Romeo.
“I love Romeo,” Virga said. “I love this little town. I have had a lot of opportunities to leave in my 14 years, I’ve had a few strip mall owners ask me to move, but I just love this town. I like keeping it real.”
The downtown area holds a history of Romeo that can’t be found anywhere else. The shops emphasize the small, homey feeling of the town, and represent what Romeo is all about: a combination of old and new. Take a look at the shops in the area, and you may, as Ms. Virga says, leave a shop saying, “I can’t believe I finally found this place.”