Thrift-shop grande dame
Jamie Musser’s eclectic, piled-high thrift boutique has been around since the 1970s
Much has been made recently of the noticeable uptick locally in small shops devoted to selling fashionable used and upcycled clothing. One, downtown’s popular Three Sixty Ecotique, was referred to as “the grandmother of eco-fashion shops” in a recent CN&R Greenways feature (see “Upcycled couture,” CN&R, Nov. 8).
If Three Sixty Ecotique is the grandmother of second-hand boutiques, then Lovene’s Clothing & Collectables—tucked inside the East Ninth Avenue home of 81-year-old Jamie Musser—is certainly the great-grandmother, the matriarch, of the local recycled-clothing scene. Lovene’s—named after Musser’s grandmother (and Musser’s middle name)—has been around since November 1976, when Musser first opened up the front rooms of her house as a second-hand store.
Upon entering the front door of Lovene’s, one is struck by just how much stuff is shoehorned into two rooms. Row upon row of skirts, shirts, dresses (many of them vintage, including a wedding dress from 1910) and coats occupy space alongside (and underneath) piles of hats, gloves and table linen; racks of shoes, belts and scarves; and shelves of drinking glasses, tea cups and eye-catching knick-knacks.
Super-good deals, such as a size 7/8 like-new iridescent-peach prom dress for $20, occupy quarters with curious items such as a snap-under-the-crotch, white “Jim Shirt” (as the tag that came with the shirt when Musser acquired it mistakenly spelled “gym shirt”) dated 1930, and trendy pieces such as a pair of “snoods”—large crocheted caps such as the those worn by folks with dreadlocks.
“The only reason I opened the shop to begin with was I figured I didn’t need all the stuff I was accumulating—lots of furniture, wicker, dishes—all this stuff,” said Musser recently, sitting in the living room of the 1908 wooden house she shares with her 9-year-old Airedale-boxer mix, Dulce.
Yet accumulating “stuff” remains a big part of Musser’s life; sitting with Musser, one’s eyes can hardly take it all in. Notable amidst her many acquisitions (and this is just in her living area) are several antique “pie safes”—free-standing, screened-in cupboards used in the 19th century for keeping varmints out of the pies and other edibles. Piled on a table near Musser were stack after stack of used cashmere sweaters—just a fraction of the numerous items for sale that have “sneaked” their way into just about all the rooms of Musser’s house as the inventory in the jam-packed shop-rooms overflows and, like water, forges a new path and place to settle.
“I had lots of mothers-of-friends [at the time] who had doilies, crystal, nice wine glasses,” noted Musser—an amiable, chatty woman who is an unabashed, regular thrift-shopper and packrat—of how she amassed her original inventory, which included excess clothing from her own bursting closet. “When I started running out of my own stuff, I started going to yard sales, which I love.” She also regularly frequents rummage and estate sales.
Musser “just can’t stay away” from thrift shops, she said. “I’ll go to the store to get some olive oil, and, well, it won’t be too far away from [the] ARC [Thrift Store] or one of those places, and I just stop in.” She also began sewing items—such as the three-tiered gypsy dresses and dresses and skirts made from old men’s silk ties that she became known for—to sell in her shop.
“Before I bought this house, I owned a rental—I thought I would go into owning property and managing it,” said Musser, who has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Chico State (she’s also an accomplished painter). “But I decided I liked the shop once I started, and I liked sewing.” Musser, whose mother was a milliner at a hotel in San Francisco, learned to sew as a teenager.
Musser’s life-and-business philosophy is simple: “If I get something new, I have to put something out there in the shop.
“It’s very handy for clutterbugs to have a shop,” said Musser, adding, “It’s really my social life. I love my customers.
“I don’t want to quit,” she said. “No—because I wouldn’t be able to buy new stuff. And I like to see what’s out there!”