In a little shop near the Westroads food court, shelves of pastel-dyed high-waisted denim shorts and well-worn canvas Converse sneakers await shoppers ready for warm weather. So do racks of floral skirts, cotton dresses, swimsuits, men’s short-sleeved button-down shirts and other items shaping up to be staples of spring and summer 2013.
Most afternoons, the small shop draws young women in printed tights, cutoff shorts, vintage-looking tops and similar styles, who peruse the racks as, say, Madonna plays on the stereo. In the mornings, older mall walkers stop in, drawn by fashions they remember from decades past. Stumped shoppers in need of a gift visit in hopes of finding something unique as the fashion-forward look for perhaps a skirt or jacket that no one else in Omaha has.
This is the Flying Worm, Westroads’ only vintage store. Manager Caitlin Little has worked to fill the shop, which opened just before Christmas, with both classic vintage duds — full 1950s skirts, mod dresses, sequined tops — as well as more accessible, less costumey pieces — vintage screen-printed sweatshirts and T-shirts, and the aforementioned high-waisted shorts and Converse shoes.
The Westroads store is one of two Flying Worm locations. The original is downtown — a more expected and traditional location for a vintage shop.
But Joe Dempsey, who owns both locations, thought that perhaps the mall was ready for the Flying Worm, even though malls have long been a place for those who, unlike vintage shoppers, want to embrace trends instead of eschew them.
Much of the clothing currently carried at major retailers — places like American Eagle, the Buckle and especially Forever 21, which just expanded its Westroads store to two levels — is vintage-inspired, Little said. It seemed natural to give mall shoppers a selection of the old pieces that inspired current fashions.
“I think this store is going to be a lot about educating people,” said Little, 27.
Dempsey opened the original Flying Worm three years ago at 1125 Jackson St., in a historic brick building stuffed to the gills with vintage dresses, jewelry, scarves, belts and many, many pairs of cowboy boots, as well as a few new items. The store did well, particularly among dedicated vintage shoppers, visitors to Omaha and, occasionally, construction workers who would stop in to pick up a warm, vintage Carhartt jacket on especially cold days, Dempsey said.
But Dempsey, along with downtown store manager Katie Cleveland, suspected that the Flying Worm could have greater reach, and they began looking at high-traffic locations that drew a different kind of shopper from the ones who frequented the downtown store.
And while vintage shops aren’t exactly typical of stores found at a shopping mall, Dempsey and Cleveland both thought the mall made sense.
“Traffic at the mall at Christmas is incredible,” Dempsey said.
The mall store, smaller and slightly less overwhelming than its downtown counterpart, started out as an experiment. Dempsey expected that the Flying Worm at Westroads would stay open through Christmas, then quietly close after the holidays.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, shoppers turned to the Flying Worm for small, thoughtful gifts — say, a pin similar to one their grandmother owned, or a pretty silk scarf, Cleveland said.
But clothing sold well, too.
Omaha shoppers, as it turned out, apparently wanted a vintage stop at the mall.
“You don’t have a lot of stores like this in west Omaha,” said Aubree Chorba, 27, as she perused jewelry at the shop one recent afternoon. Chorba lives out west but has never been much for chain retailers.
“It’s nostalgic,” she said of her vintage wardrobe. “It fits me, who I am. I’m an old soul.”
Her vintage pieces draw attention and make her stand out, Chorba said. And the same could be said of the Flying Worm’s presence at Westroads, according to Jim Sadler, the mall’s general manager.
Of Westroads’ 140 stores, around 25 are independent and local, he said, and those shops help give a mall personality.
“Every mall that you go to, they all have the Victoria’s Secret and the Gap, but what sets your mall apart are the individual stores like this,” he said.
High school juniors and seniors visited the Flying Worm at Westroads in search of unique prom dresses, Little said. Tweens and young teens shoppers tentatively venture in, testing the waters of vintage shopping, maybe buying a sweatshirt or a vintage top. Still other customers have been drawn by the environmental appeal of buying pre-worn, essentially recycled clothing.
Little, a longtime vintage clothing enthusiast, often mixes feminine skirts with vintage T-shirts. Sometimes she wears two dresses at once. Many young shoppers, she said, also are comfortable with mixing clothing of different eras, styles and price points — something she attributes at least in part to the vast online sources of inspiration on Pinterest, Tumblr and many, many fashion blogs.
“Everybody’s a fashion blogger,” she said.
Sadler, who at 50 falls outside the Flying Worm’s target demographic, has noticed this. And he’s glad the mall — once the place to go for the familiar and trendy — has added a bit of quirky and unique to keep up.
And while the Flying Worm is Westroads’ first vintage shop — or at least the first that Sadler can remember — it’s not the first mall to offer vintage options. For example, the Minneapolis-based chain Ragstock, which sells a mix of vintage, used and new clothing, has mall locations throughout Minnesota, as well as in five other states.
The Flying Worm’s Westroads location also offers some new pieces to lure customers who might not visit a store that deals exclusively in vintage — a tactic other vintage and used clothing stores such as Paperdoll Vintage in Benson and Scout Dry Goods in Dundee have also embraced.
The shop carries a few new dresses, shoes and swimsuits — though vintage swimsuits sell surprisingly well, too, Cleveland said. She estimated that perhaps 20 percent of the store’s offerings were new.
The shop management still is working to find the right balance of old and new, unique and accessible, Dempsey said.
And he’s hopeful they’ll find the magic mix.
“If we get it right, it would be a great thing,” he said. “You could open a store in any mall in the country.”
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