Not many businesses could survive being open for just four days per month. Few locally owned shops would completely renovate their interior design 12 times in a year. Yet Sweet Salvage, a self-described “occasional sales market” on 7th Avenue and Highland Avenue in Phoenix, thrives by doing just that.
For the past six years, the vintage shop has opened between Thursday and Sunday of the third week each month, treating its customers to a new theme every time. On Saturday, September 23, that theme was “Wicked Faire,” a mix of Halloween and autumnal flavors.
Fake skeletons and stuffed crows peered over a tufted cognac leather sofa and a rocking chair. White candles stood in pewter candelabras, towering over withering books with faded print. It is like a giant layout of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie”—only haunted.
The store’s open floor plan blends cohesively considering it is divided into different, elaborate scenes. Thirty home décor designers and curators of clothes and fine jewelry are the masterminds behind each event. Each of them features vintage items salvaged from across the United States, which are on display – and for sale – along with more modern pieces.
“Wow, mom, look at that!” cried a young girl, tugging at her mother’s sleeve and gazing up.
Both mother and daughter stopped to marvel at ornate wooden chairs and stuffed snowy owls hovering overhead, strung to the ceiling with transparent wire. A gold cloth eagle with a wide foam head loomed at the corner of the scene, its price displayed on a small tag tucked beneath its wing: $395.
“Have you seen ‘Fantastic Beasts’?” the artist behind the booth asked, describing her inspiration from the latest film in the Harry Potter franchise. “That’s Frank, the Thunderbird. He took me one week to make.”
Aimee Bolenbach, a former sixth grade teacher, stood offside with a smile, admiring the magical embedded in the layout. She paused to inspect a worn-out Remington typewriter perched on top of a vintage apothecary cabinet.
“It’s the level of detail,” she said, brushing her electric blue dip-dyed hair off her shoulders. “What’s so great is that here you find these old items that your parents or grandparents had, but reinvented with a whole new purpose. It’s a mix of new, old, and then really old. And even some inventions.”
The shop’s main building has a back door opening to a miniature courtyard filled with old yard furniture and flaking, sun-bleached shutters. Just behind it is a large stand-alone garage built into a history junkie’s playroom of rusted motorbikes and old-fashioned, outdoor games.
“Guys, the music is seriously lacking,” Kim Rawlins, storeowner and founder, called out in the late afternoon.
Duran Duran swelled from the stereo in response. Rawlins removed her medical mask to reveal a friendly smile, undimmed by the latest stages of chemotherapy treatment. She spent some time moving around the store to assist clients. Later, she revealed that being there was a long-awaited treat, having been too unwell to attend the past few openings.
Heather Moeller, a co-owner and creative director, pointed to Rawlin’s medical mask, set aside on a table for mere moments, and genially said to her, “Hey, Kim, I don’t want to be a brat, but I really don’t want you breathing much of this air without that.”
The two women embraced. Rawlins leaned on Moeller’s shorter frame with a soft laugh. They have been business partners for six years, united by a shared desire to show Phoenix what a vintage market could look like. As they surveyed the handiwork and the enthused customers meandering through the store, a mirrored look of contentment crept over their faces.
“Our hearts go into our displays every month,” said Moeller. “This is our sandbox, our big dolls house. We get to come and create exactly what we see in our heads and have fun doing it. ”