By Melissa Landeros
Tiffany Gush, owner of Empire Vintage Clothing in Mountain View, sat quietly on her new shop's floor wearing a bright shawl in hues of green, orange and yellow over a faded black dress. She wrote her current sales of the day on a white board leaning against an enclosed case filled with unique sunglasses.
Owning a vintage store was her lifelong dream, Gush said. Her merchandise is a curated collection of items that reflect her personal style. She handpicks pieces that fall under her criteria of being "old and unusual," in hopes that her customers will also like them.
For four years, Empire Vintage Clothing was up and running in Palo Alto on Waverley Street. According to Gush, downtown Palo Alto began to change after a some large companies moved in and several office buildings were constructed. These shifts resulted in a significant increase in rent that prompted Gush to relocate.
"I was paying my own personal salary to my landlord," she said. "My rent went up 35 percent."
For nine months Gush said she was scraping by trying to pay her rent. She said her landlord was unwilling to compromise on the high rate he asking.
She recalled feeling like a failure and asking herself why she couldn't make things work in her own town. She grew up in Palo Alto, and her mother owned an antique shop on Forest and High streets. Gush said that her love of all things old and vintage stemmed from that shop.
It was "heartbreaking" to give up her Palo Alto location, but she wasn't willing to give up on her business, she said.
"Being an entrepreneur is in my blood," she said. "I just want to be successful and have fun doing it."
As of February, Empire Vintage relocated to downtown Mountain View at 831 Villa Street. Gush describes her move as ultimately beneficial, because now she is surrounded by independent, small and local businesses. It is an area immersed with young people, which is a better match for her and her customers, she said.
"It's an up-and-coming hipster central," Gush said. "Mountain View is really changing, Villa Street is really popular."
Discovering the new location was a moment of serendipity. One morning Gush decided to drive down Villa Street and saw a "for rent sign," that had been put up the night before.
"That building is the biggest eyesore on the block, but I think she is a diamond in the rough," Gush said.
After negotiating with her new landlord, Empire Vintage Clothing was back in business with the help of Gush's two sales associates. Gush's background in interior design helped with the revitalization of the 85-year-old space, which took about a month, she said.
The shop carries unique vintage items dating back to the 1940s and up until the 1980s. Her selection includes a mix of everyday wear for men and women, as well as an array of costumes that fall under styles like "pin-up," "1980s prom" and "Mad Men."
"It's a funky, fun and playful place; it doesn't take itself too seriously," said Gretchen Curtis, who described herself as a regular customer. "You can find something extremely unique, and you can guarantee no one will have what you are wearing."
Curtis said she was attracted to Empire Vintage because it was the only vintage shop in the Palo Alto area. She followed it to Mountain View, and said she likes to visit the shop to search for party dresses.
Gush said that her customers are usually looking for vintage items that mimic mainstream fashion. Crop tops usually don't remain in the store for very long, because they look like something that could be found in stores like American Apparel or Free People.
"And they are a fraction of the price," she said.
While Gush said business has dipped a bit since relocating, she has plans to rent some space adjacent to her shop to artists and artisans, where they can sell their wares.
"It's a big ship, I just happen to be steering the wheel," Gush said.