These 5 St. Louis Shops Are Surviving -- and Thriving -- in the Age of Amazon

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Maya Harlan attends to the racks at LAUNCH, a two-year-old boutique on the Hill.
Maya Harlan attends to the racks at LAUNCH, a two-year-old boutique on the Hill. TOM HELLAUER

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John Klynott, who owns Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage with Janet Maevers, loves the one-on-one interactions the shop facilitates. - TOM HELLAUER
John Klynott, who owns Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage with Janet Maevers, loves the one-on-one interactions the shop facilitates.

The Adapters
Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage

Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage (2303 Cherokee Street, 314-769-9722) is that rare shop that's managed not only to stay alive, with a storefront thriving even after eleven years of huge change on Cherokee Street, but to do so without maintaining a website. But that doesn't mean the vintage store's owners avoid technology. Instead, they've found a way to let other platforms, from Instagram to eBay, work for them.

Co-owners John Klynott and Janet Maevers are 50/50 partners in the business, which Klynott describes as a vintage clothing store with a hint of mid-century modern and collectibles. They specialize in period clothing for both men and women from the 1950s and earlier, but also carry '60s, '70s and some over-the-top '80s clothing, as well as what Klynott calls "quirky, unusual and interesting" items and collectibles.

Klynott has long been interested in salvaging older things, although his focus was originally furniture. As a kid on a paper route, he'd spot garage sales — and have to make a purchase.

"I would bring stuff home and my mother would have a fit. 'Why are you bringing all this garbage into my house?' It was just in my blood since a really early age," says Klynott. Vintage clothing followed when, years later, he bought a jacket from Vintage Haberdashery on South Grand and found himself falling in love with the history of fashion by decade, with a particular interest in the construction of garments. In 2002, he opened a shop of his own.

At first, it was just Retro 101. But in 2004, he ended up merging with Maevers, who'd opened Cherry Bomb Vintage five years earlier. The two met when Klynott was considering opening a store on Cherokee Street; Cherry Bomb Vintage was at the time located at 2016 Cherokee Street.

"That was when we met and we instantly connected, became friends really fast and almost twenty years later, still going strong," says Klynott. "I consider her a family member at this point. Some people think we're husband and wife, others think we're brother and sister. At the end of the day, it's a constant in my life and I'm sure it will continue until the end."

Even as a joint entity, Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage has seen multiple location changes, but it's been at home in its current spot since 2007. Racks hung with vintage clothing reach from one side of the store to the other, while necklaces, bracelets and other kinds of jewelry fill various glass cases. Glass figurines and toys are arranged on shelves, while purses line one wall. The store is packed with items, and Klynott enjoys helping customers find the perfect purchase.

Janet Maevers contemplates the inventory at Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage. - TOM HELLAUER
Janet Maevers contemplates the inventory at Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage.

"I love interacting with people one on one and seeing the finished product. Someone comes in; someone leaves with something they really love," says Klynott. "That is the ideal situation."

At the time the two shops came together, the partners created a website. But in recent years, Klynott and Maevers have abandoned it. They now utilize Instagram, Facebook and eBay to reach online shoppers.

To Klynott, their business is much different than other retailers and should operate as such.

"With sellers such as Amazon, they have a product and they have five million of it and they're just trying to push it out the door," says Klynott. "What we're selling is unique, generally one of a kind. Something you can't get at a mall or a department store."

When he posts a picture of an item on Instagram or Facebook, people will like the post or comment to say they want to buy it. At that point, Klynott direct-messages back, giving the customer more specifics, and then gets their PayPal information and sends them an invoice. "It is interestingly lickety-split," says Klynott.

Still, all those one-on-one interactions take time. "It's a full-time job. I don't Instagram every day because I can be completely bombarded for a whole eight hours on Instagram messages," says Klynott. "It gets overwhelming."

Instead, he chooses a day where he spends the morning washing, pressing and photographing a dozen hand-chosen pieces of clothing. He'll dedicate the afternoon to posting them and messaging back and forth with customers until he's made his sales.

If an item bombs, he'll sometimes reintroduce it on social media at a later date. "Sometimes I'll post something and it just wasn't the right time for that specific item," says Klynott.

Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage also has an eBay store, which is generally fully stocked with around 200 items. Local shoppers beware: The items Klynott lists on eBay are often triple or quadruple the price he would realize in the storefront.

"There are things that I list that people would think I was insane if I had it here," he says of the shop.

The online sales, unlike the brick-and-mortar ones, can easily take over his life. But the shop's online presence allows it to reach a much wider consumer base than would be possible with a single location.

"We build friendships with people through Instagram and Facebook with people that we would have never been able to meet from all over the country," says Klynott.

Despite that online success, Klynott would much rather work with customers face to face. Much like the people he sells vintage clothing to, he yearns for a simpler time.

"If I could just depend on the storefront to generate all our income that we need to sustain, I would love to just completely disconnect from my iPhone," he says.
—Dustin Steinhoff

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