There's a stretch of Park Boulevard on the Hillcrest / North Park border that, at first glance, doesn't look like much. The ongoing road construction is somewhat of an eyesore, and the foot traffic suggests there isn't much to see other than a condo building and a massive sex shop on the corner. (Sex shops tend to draw attention away from other things, but I won't hold it against them. Unless they want me to.) Turns out, the transformation on Park between University and Robinson is not "disappointing," as a KPBS piece called it back in 2010 while lamenting the loss of the historic theater that once had a home there. The block is full of locally owned businesses that serve as a haven for those desperately seeking mid-century (as in the 20th) vintage furniture, clothing and more.
With new pieces every week, Atomic Bazaar (3816 Park Blvd., ), located in the old Egyptian Theater, is a small space packed with vintage items you'd actually put in your home—and still have money to burn. For instance, if you need a coffee or end table, know this: An American-made, solid walnut coffee table with a built-in magazine rack can be yours for only $225. Yes, it instantly dates itself (because—magazine rack), but it's still functional (it will fit your iPad nicely) and can hold its own among more modern pieces in a family-room setting. It'll no doubt make a local journalist very happy someday. (Hopefully, me.)
If you're looking for a bigger selection of vintage finds, such as 1950s kitchen kitsch or 1970s Italian ceramics, walk across the street to Mid-Century Design (3795 Park Blvd.). Owner Jeff Spence says he opened for business 25 years ago, "when there were no condos," and has been a fixture in the community ever since. It used to be, Spence says, that his store only interested a niche clientele and that some people would walk into his store saying, "Why would anyone want to buy this old furniture?" Of course, sentiments have drastically changed, and now everyone wants a piece of the past. Two ultra-high-back fabric chairs, their bright eggplant color perfect for 1970s royalty, will set you back $600 each. I dare you to take one for a test sit and not feel important. Seriously, take your time and really look around. I almost missed a gorgeous oil painting of a Hong Kong street scene ($60), the image of which stayed with me long after I left. Spence doesn't know where or when it's from, but he says it's almost better that way. You don't have to get caught up with the names or brands—you can simply appreciate the art.
That's pretty much how Spence's neighbor a couple storefronts down sees it. Morgan Freeman (no, not that Morgan Freeman) owns Edith Ernestine (3775 Park Blvd.), an all-vintage clothing and accessories boutique she opened up in 2012. Freeman isn't so much after the brand of the piece as she is the fit, feel and quality of it—and also its potential for making a good outfit. "I'll take it because it will go in someone's wardrobe," she says. You've got several decades from which to choose: pieces from the '50s all the way through the '80s (you know you're a product of the '80s if you spot the $8 tic-tac-toe earrings, like, immediately), and also the last two years or so of current trends from Michael Kors, Gucci, J.Crew and so on. Women walk in and are genuinely surprised and impressed by Freeman's fashion finds. I suspect word of mouth will spread quickly.
I'm sure there are those who miss the historic theater on Park Boulevard. But where some see disappointment, I see a small but thriving corridor for local, affordable, accessible retail. In the same KPBS piece, D.A. Kolodenko (also a CityBeat contributor) was quoted as saying that "we like to wreck things and then replace them with new things that celebrate, pay lip service to or otherwise acknowledge the things they replaced." Well, there may be some truth to that. At least Park Boulevard makes it look good.