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Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer satisfies yinzers' love of nostalgia

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, 1:03 a.m.
Pittsburghers gravitate to flea markets, and the semi-annual Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer in Lawrenceville is no exception. The next mixer is set for Nov. 9-10.
Pittsburghers gravitate to flea markets, and the semi-annual Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer in Lawrenceville is no exception. The next mixer is set for Nov. 9-10.
The Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer features dozens of sellers of vintage and antique goods.
The Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer features dozens of sellers of vintage and antique goods.

The Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer taps into one of Pittsburgh’s greatest natural resources.

No, not steel or coal, or teamwork, or anything like that.

Nostalgia. Pittsburghers love nostalgia.

That’s what’s driving the Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer, set for Nov. 9-10, Pittsburgh’s biggest biannual celebration of vintage and antique stuff.

From vinyl records to toys, clothes to furniture, to old horror movie posters, the Teamsters Temple in Lawrenceville is going to be stuffed with things you haven’t seen in a while (or perhaps ever).

“One of the joys of the Vintage Mixer is seeing people mixing decades of clothing,” says Bess Dunlevy, one of the event organizers. “A pair of ’90s jeans with a 1950s sweater — or a 1950s prom dress with Doc Martens boots from the 80s.”

Everything comes around

Yes, the ’80s and ’90s are now considered “vintage.” Don’t know how that happened.

“What’s new for me is that young people are very interested in newer vintage,” Dunlevy says. “The ’90s! We consider anything 20 years old or older vintage. That’s like ’90s Starter jackets, denim. Everything comes back around again. That Nirvana T-shirt — how can that be vintage? But it is.”

The Mixer was begun in 2012 by three friends who were selling vintage items online on Etsy.

“We were new homeowners and didn’t have much to spend on vintage antiques,” Dunlevy says. “But we liked the aesthetics. We wanted it to be accessible to all budgets.

“If you have $20 and want to come in for something for your dorm room, or if you’re kid coming in with your allowance, you can buy a button or something. But you can also get a high-end statement piece.”

The Mixer started at the New Hazlett Theater in 2012.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” says Dunlevy. “We didn’t know if there was an audience until we opened the doors — and we had a little shy of 1,000 people show up.”

Now, they often get more than double that, twice a year — depending on the weather.

Prime mover

The prime mover of Pittsburgh’s nostalgia-industrial complex, documentarian Rick Sebak, did an episode of his WQED TV series “Nebby” on the Mixer. He’ll also be a vendor this year, selling some of his own wondrous collections of stuff.

“People love meeting him, because of who he is as a documentarian of Pittsburgh,” says Dunlevy. “To hear his own stories of his collections is also great.”

It’s that social aspect that makes this event more fun than just selling things online. A lot of the stuff sold at the Vintage Mixer comes with great stories attached.

“This region is rich in its industrial history,” explains Dunlevy. “Specifically, the glass factories. The tableware. Everything from Hazel Atlas glass to Jeannette Glass. The Rust Belt is rich in that history.

“Those of us from this area — many of our relatives worked in those factories, and plants,” she adds. “Not only is there a nostalgia for, ‘Oh my grandma had this collection,’ it’s also not terribly difficult to find.

“My grandmother worked for the Canonsburg Pottery Factory. I have a whole set of dishware from that spot. For us ‘pickers,’ finding pieces connected to the region isn’t that hard.”

Favorite things

Of the 40 vendors, some have established shops in the Pittsburgh area. They include vintage clothier Hey Betty! of Shadyside, Who New? Retro and Mod Décor of Lawrenceville, and Get Hip Records of the North Side.

Then, there’s those things that you stumble across that speak to you, and only you.

For Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer co-founder Michael Lutz, it’s a board game.

“It combines two of my favorite things: vintage board games and my favorite TV show from the 1960s – ‘Gidget,’” says Lutz.

For the other co-founder, Jason Sumney, it’s a giant Icee that lights up.

“Every single show, I scour the room for 1970s sunglasses, the bigger the better,” says Dunlevy. “I just love the fashion of the late ‘70s. I always end up going home with something I wasn’t expecting to find.”

Michael Machosky is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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