Story and photos by McCALL GRAY
Vintage is often imagined as objects layered in dust, likely tucked away in an attic with a musty smell lingering about.
Behind the pink door of Retro Betty, vintage is anything but dusty. Lively music from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s is humming on a record player. Clothing, furniture, accessories and gifts from those eras fill every corner of the local boutique, creating an eclectic maze of color.
Vintage is brought back to life.
Owner Amanda Parrish established Retro Betty in September 2012. Retro Betty opened just three months shy of her 30th birthday. Parrish said she had always dreamed of opening her own business and made it a goal to make it happen by that milestone.
“I’ve always loved vintage. I grew up around it,” Parrish said. “I had older grandparents who were born in 1906, so I knew the style.”
The boutique’s name expresses her love for the timeless style. Parrish said she sees the word retro as colorful, and the name Betty reminds her of a 1940s housewife.
“Back in the day people would always say, ‘Oh she’s a Betty,’ meaning she was pretty,” Parrish said. “So that’s what I wanted my store to be.”
Retro Betty, at 2821 S. 2300 East in Salt Lake City, offers a combination of genuine vintage and new items that mimic the vintage style. The boutique is filled with a vast variety, including women and men’s clothing, accessories, home and seasonal décor, and handmade greeting cards and banners made by Parrish’s mother, Kim Holmes. Parrish also taps into her creative side and refinishes furniture, giving it a new look with sometimes just a new coat of paint. The merchandise is priced anywhere between $1 and $150.
Holmes said, “I love creating one-of-a-kind paper goods for her store. It brings me joy to do that for her, and it gives me something to do.”
Other than the blend of new and old, Retro Betty is different from similar stores such as Now & Again and Maeberry Vintage in Salt Lake City. It does not run on consignment. Parrish personally scouts out the merchandise for her boutique at estate sales and flea markets, and often travels outside of Utah to cities such as Los Angeles and New York. She also attends two vintage trade shows every year.
Parrish said she can never choose just one favorite item in her store. “I love everything [in the boutique]! Everything in here is something I’ve picked out,” she said.
But, she said some of her most-liked pieces are those that seem to be the hardest to find. Vintage radios, cameras and typewriters in good condition are the pearls among the oysters.
Ashlie Roberts, a returning customer, said, “This is a great place to find unique gifts for others. It’s hard to describe, you just have to see it in person to get the full effect.”
Customers will always find Parrish at Retro Betty on Monday from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.. With no employees, she enjoys running the shop alone and interacting with the customers who visit.
The proof is in the Facebook posts to her Retro Betty business page. Ashleigh McMahon posted that she was “beyond excited” to go meet Parrish. Parrish said her customers are happy when they walk in and see her, because it makes their experience more personal.
She is considering registering her business with Local First Utah, which promotes shopping at locally-owned businesses such as Retro Betty.
Kristen Lavelett, executive director of Local First Utah, said, “The difference between shopping at a big business and a small business is profound. By shopping locally, it increases our personal stability and increases relationships with the community and who we do business with.”
Since opening, the community and local businesses have supported Retro Betty. There is no competition with other vintage stores because Parrish said the owners like to help each other out. They frequently get together to coordinate vintage shows and Instagram product giveaways to their followers.
“If someone walks in looking for something specific and I don’t have it, I’ll send them to the people that do. They do the same for me,” Parrish said.
She said her business allows her to continually give donations to the community. The Toys for Tots Foundation, cancer fundraisers and local schools are among the recipients.
“I like to help out the local schools. A lot are independent and not funded by the government, so I find those are the ones that need it the most,” Parrish said.
One of those private schools is Canyon Rim Academy. Parrish has contributed Retro Betty gift certificates for school fundraisers. Parrish has also supported Skyline and Olympus high schools by donating costumes for their school plays.
Apart from giving back to the schools near Retro Betty, Parrish also assists churches, such as the Christ United Methodist Church on 2375 E. 3300 South, and recently supplied gift certificates to its Wesley Bell Ringers for the group’s 2015 Valentine’s Day Dinner Dance.
Lavelett, with Local First Utah, said, “When you walk into a locally-owned business you know they’re not there to make money, they’re there to give back to the community.”
Parrish is delighted that her small business allows her to give back to the community. Seeing her customers’ reactions when they walk into Retro Betty is also fulfilling to her, and is what keeps her going.
“What I have here is unlike what they’ve seen before,” Parrish said. “It’s the moments when a woman comes out of the dressing room twirling in one of the dresses that show me I am making people happy.”