On one of the first hot days of May, Elizabeth Sweigart bumps down the road in her 1999 Chevy conversion van. This is her main vehicle when on the hunt for stock for her Greenport store, The Times Vintage. It also currently happens to be her ride-around vehicle while her other car is in the shop. Dangling from the rearview mirror are a sparkly green pickle ornament and two felt birds on a perch, as homage to her pet parakeets.
Sweigart sits in the driver’s seat with a smile, bobbing her head to music. Bright red flare pants and a gray graphic tee match with her square sunnies as she turns, backs up and navigates the van with ease. Her fluffy waves fly around her head as the wind blows through her rolled-down window. “Sorry,” she exclaims. “There’s no AC in here.”
Sweigart has been vintage hunting since she was 22. Originally from Texas, she moved to New York City for college in 2008. In 2013, her father, Michael Sweigart, converted space at the former Suffolk Times building on Main Street, which he owned, to start the new business with his daughter.
She’s invited me along today on a roadtrip to East Williston in Nassau County. There, Sweigart will meet a woman whose daughter emailed her about some clothes they wanted to sell. “Her name’s Anne and she’s 95,” she says. “The thing that hooked me was these black sequined pants and jacket.”
Trips like these are common for Sweigart on days when her shop is closed. Sometimes it’s older people looking to sell clothes from a different era. Sometimes it’s an estate sale. Sometimes it’s a flea market in New York, California or Texas. “I’m always looking for some special pieces — ones that are kind of hard to find,” she says. “Like the sequins sound stupid but the crazier, the better. I prefer anything from the 80s or earlier.”
She considers each piece a look into someone’s past. Sometimes the wearer of the clothes isn’t there to tell the story, but the items themselves do the talking. “You can tell a lot about someone from their collection of stuff,” she says. “You can pick up on their style. It’s like meeting the person.”
She pulls up to the senior living facility and parks the 18-foot-long van in the street, hops onto the hot tar and strolls into the lobby. Anne Marconi lives on the first floor. Inside, the living room is dim, but filled with color. Fake flowers sit in every corner, floral patterns cover the couches and orchids bloom on a shelf in the corner. In the entryway, a wall of hats, about a dozen, show that Marconi has style. Flat brim, sun hats, blossom hats — “I love hats,” she says.
She shuffles towards her hallway closet with her walker. “All right, let’s see if we can interest you in something.”
One by one, Sweigart gently removes articles of clothing on hangers, inspects each one delicately and either hangs it off to the side, indicating she may want to buy it from Marconi, or puts it back. “Oh, and here’s the sequins that I saw from the photos,” she says, holding up a hanger with a few pieces on it. The complete set is a vest, jacket, pants and shorts — all completely covered in black sequins.
“And you can see, I used to love to get dressed up,” Marconi says. “I wore them with black stockings and high heels. My husband was a great dancer. We danced a lot. Oh, it got good use, let me tell you.”
Three closets later, Sweigart has gathered a pile of clothes. A light pink button-up with lace detail, a silk blouse with little glove decals, a paisley corduroy shirt, a rain cape, a wool cape, a flapper-inspired dress from the 80s, four hats and a pair of shoes make up the heap. Now comes the hard part: the bargaining.
“I hate negotiating because you don’t want to offend people.” Sweigart says later. “Sure, there’s sentimental value, but sometimes I’m like, ‘You’re better off just keeping this.’ I’ve learned how to say no, but it’s so hard.’” Still, at 31 and with nearly a decade of experience, she’s developed a thicker skin than she used to have and has a better idea of what will sell at her store — and for how much.
In her head, she divides things into categories. Some pieces could sell as-is to anyone who walks into the shop. Others will have to find a home with a specific client. Take the flapper-inspired dress, for example. “It’s beautiful and a really cool piece,” Sweigart says. “But it’s going to be hard to sell.” The shoulder pads, lace detail neckline, beaded scalloped edges and white color all play into that. “It’s more of a costume or special occasion piece.”
Sweigart offers Marconi $40 for it. “That’s the highest I can go.” Marconi winces a little. When she looks at the dress, she sees the memories from her son’s wedding, the last occasion she wore it to. “Can we do $50?” she counters. “At that point, I would just pass,” Sweigart returns. Marconi agrees.
Piece by piece, they go through the pile — most of the time agreeing on a price, but sometimes agreeing to move on if they can’t come to a number. Sweigart ends up with most of the pieces she picked out, including a full sequin set for $100. Finally, they come to the last article of clothing: a wide-cut, animal-print raincoat with big black buttons.
“This was so cute,” Marconi says.
“It is,” Sweigart says. “How does $10 sound?”
“All right.” After going through more than a dozen garments from her past, Marconi seems more apt to let things go.
“That way I can put a good low price,” Sweigart says, consoling her. “Because you know who’s gonna buy this? A teenager.” And just like that, a rain jacket from a 95-year-old woman finds new life.