Twenty minutes from downtown Santa Fe, in a dusty business park next to a car garage, typical of this industrial region just south of New Mexico's sunny capital, lies Santa Fe Vintage. Off the beaten track would be an understatement.
Spread across its half a dozen rooms are carefully curated collectibles of pure Americana: walls of Navajo blankets, rows of cowboy boots, a rack of early 1900s horse-fur coats, a military section with second world war fighter jackets and canvas duffels, a denim den, a women's fashion room sorted by decade and going back to the Victorian era, as well as records, art, flags, posters and other vintage paraphernalia.
Santa Fe Vintage was founded by Scott Corey, a local blues musician and collector who first started selling pieces from his apartment before opening the store. For more than three decades, Scott traveled up and down the country looking for American items ‘from a time when the things we wore were made here, and made well,’ he once told GQ magazine. Santa Fe Vintage quickly became something of an institution, and not just among enthusiasts in the US, but with collectors from around the world, too. It's not uncommon for denim designers from Japan to drop in, or vintage buyers from France.
Scott died in 2019, but what he spent decades building remains. Today, the store is operated by Teo Griscom, Scott's former apprentice, and her husband, Josh Kalmus. They have a baby son, Townes. Visitors to the shop can usually find all three of them on site.
‘It's quite a full circle for me,’ says Teo, speaking from behind a stack of Levi's 501 jeans. She grew up in Santa Fe with an eye for fashion, often buying pieces from Scott himself. Later, she studied fashion in Chicago and worked in New York City. ‘I returned to Santa Fe about 10 years ago. It was Scott who gave me a job doing merchandising,’ she smiles. When Scott started getting sick, they made plans for Teo to take over.
‘We took over in January 2020, right before the world sort of stopped,’ Teo says. The months that followed – of little to no business – were, in a sense, welcomed. She and Josh – a novice in the world of fashion, having jumped over from working as a chef (‘Now I have more sociable hours and better family time,’ he says) – were able to go through thousands of pieces of inventory and categorize nearly everything. ‘Scott was a classic old-school designer,’ Teo says. ‘All the details existed in his head, like where he bought each item. He'd even decide the price for each item on the spot, because he just knew.’
A more user-friendly inventory is the only change from Teo; otherwise, it operates just as before. For example, there's very little marketing, aside from posting on Instagram, which barely scratches the surface of the collection. The idea is that customers come to Santa Fe and go on the journey to discover the shop in its non-descript setting.
Importantly, too, the store remains appointment only. ‘Scott always liked that: it targets passionate people, maybe because they want to learn about the stock or maybe they're collectors,’ Teo says. The usual customers include designers, Americana buyers from Europe and Asia, the odd movie and theater customer, and people who love vintage. The price point is at a range that indicates a certain level of vintage expertise, too, so don't expect to pay any less than a couple of hundred bucks per piece.
While the appointment-only rule might sound a bit intimidating, the intended effect is the opposite. ‘The space becomes one for you to explore, and you've got us there waiting to answer questions,’ Teo says. From visiting, it's hard to imagine a more pleasant group of people on hand to help out. Teo adds: ‘When it's appointment only, you don't have other shoppers looking at what you're looking at, or purchasing.’
The popularity of vintage clothes has skyrocketed in recent years, largely due to a rise in conscientious shopping and Gen Z rejecting fast fashion in favor of secondhand clothing. According to online resale store ThredUP, this trend has transformed the vintage fashion industry, which could be worth $77 billion in the next five years, up from around $43 billion today. This has also meant that ‘vintage’ has become a trendy word to slap on a shop, with the only prerequisite being that someone was willing to pick things out from a secondhand bin.
But, at Santa Fe Vintage, much of what is in the store has come from Scott's past collecting efforts – as extensive and carefully considered as they get. For Teo, a new baby and the travel restrictions imposed during Covid meant fewer scouting trips, although they're back on the cards now. ‘That does suck, because it's such a joyous part of this job, but we're served by a network of trusted pickers in many US states and even in Europe,’ she says. Trusting her pickers, being selective and taking the time to curate the space is, she says, what sets Santa Fe Vintage apart.
‘Vintage is having a moment for sure, but what we're doing is extremely focused. This is a place primarily for made-in-America pieces. We think about what we're selling and how we're curating it,’ Teo explains. ‘We also vet to ensure that it's authentic, and we take care of it, patch it and sew it. Not everyone is going to these lengths. But that's the standard that Scott set.’