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Closet Classics

by Sonya Jongsma KnaussCheckin' the threads at Closet Classics

It’s hard to beat a good cup of coffee, but what if you could get a good cup of coffee and shop for funky clothes at the same place? Closet Classics Caffeine and Clothing on the corner of North and Weil offers both. Customers can grab a cuppa joe then wander upstairs to find some shoes, a dress, or a costume for that 80s party. As an added bonus for those who want coffee without the smoky atmosphere of other neighborhood coffee shops, the coffee bar is smoke-free. The place is attractive, with a beautiful oak bar, clean floors, and retro clothing, shoes, handbags, and posters decorating the walls — a sneak preview of what’s waiting upstairs. If you pick the right morning, Jacob Janoska might be there with some friendly talk to go with your coffee. You can choose between croissants, bagels, or any of several vegan confections from Eastside Ovens, including their famous cupcakes. Even though business is sporadic at the new coffee bar — “I think it’s because it’s so new people aren’t sure whether it’s cool yet” — Jacob enjoys his job, brewing up a strong cup of Alterra’s Organic Blue Heeler blend, chatting with customers at the bar, and dishing out dollops of whipped cream for 4-year-old Nathan who’s there with his dad. Just outside is a pleasant, enclosed outdoor seating area. As you walk upstairs to the clothing store, prepare for a sensory treat. White lights string their way up the stairs, and the scent of incense wafts through the air. The store is packed with colorful clothes, shoes, wigs, accessories, and other products. “Most customers spend a lot more time here than they intend,” says store manager Amanda Rose. These are items you might find if you spend hours scouring every thrift shop in the city, but here they’re all gathered under one roof. There’s a nice mix of new and vintage clothing, with some Asian imports and styles from the 50s to the 90s. The owner of Closet Classics, who prefers to keep her identity under wraps and goes by the moniker “Retro Diva,” recently moved her Milwaukee store from Farwell Street to its Riverwest location at North and Weil, formerly Noodles bar. “I’ve always like Riverwest,” she says. She feels the neighborhood is on the “up and up” and has many customers in the area. Closet Classics is returning to its roots, in a sense, as her home on Booth Street was the first place “Retro Diva” opened shop. Amanda Rose, who manages the store, has a funky flair and is perfect for the job. A long-time customer, she used to drive across town while in high school to find clothes she couldn’t find anywhere else. She’s the perfect saleswoman, pointing out novelty items and great finds that “Retro Diva” has gathered on her travels throughout the state and country at estate sales. “We had some high school seniors in here the other day shopping for new and vintage prom dresses,” she says, listing one of the many reasons clientele come to the store. “I have people constantly coming here just for the tights,” Amanda says, of which there are many colors and styles including plenty of fishnet stockings. She points out cigarette holders you won’t find anywhere else, a huge assortment of jewelry, including body piercing jewelry, wonder woman costumes, vinyl dresses, rubber and chain-link clothing, and schoolgirl outfits. Cigarette cases, body glitter, eyeglasses, long gloves, funky pajamas, collectibles, flasks, stoles, and canes with hidden flasks inside are a few other items the store carries.. “I can honestly say there’s a little bit of everything for everyone,” Amanda says. Closet Classic grew out of “Retro Diva’s” love for thrift and rummage sales. She would scour the city’s thrift stores and estate sales looking for interesting vintage clothing and accessories. Eventually she accumulated so many things that she decided to have a yard sale. On the day of the sale it rained, so she rushed to bring everything into her basement, hanging clothes here and there on heating pipes. While not many people stopped in, one man who did asked a question that sparked the creation of her store — “do you set up shop here?” She realized it did look like a store of sorts, and decided to open a retro clothing store. She soon found out there was a large audience for her clothes, and she’s been in business for the last 18 years. Closet Classics is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. The coffee bar opens at 7 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. weekends, closing at the same time as the clothing store each day. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 3 – April 2002