If you’re in search of a chair made out of cassette tapes, old records that have been transformed into functioning clocks, upcycled pallet furniture or some retro clothing finds, you don’t have to look any farther than downtown Bangor.
Retro Swagger at 10 Harlow St. opened last November, and I’ve had my eye on it since. On Monday I finally had the time to wander into the shop and check it out.
Inside I found trucker hats hanging from the ceiling, collages made of old belts, cassette tape purses, a vintage arcade game, necklaces made out of old dominoes and Scrabble tiles and so much more.
A young man named Cadell Gamber was behind the counter. He’s one of four people in the Gamber/Hansen family that run the store.
Pete Hansen also came in to greet me and told me about Retro Swagger — a relatively new business in the downtown Bangor community.
“I guess we’re kind of like a little kitschy boutique that has a little bit of everything,” Hansen said.
Hansen is an artist — he’s the mind behind the cassette tape creations in the store, including the purses, chairs and even desk clocks made out of cassettes. He also creates all the pallet furniture, from coffee tables to Adirondack-style chairs.
Hansen told me that his wife, Annie Gamber, and his stepdaughter Raven Gamber are the people behind the store’s operations. He calls himself “one of the artists that helps run it.”
Retro Swagger carries work from a few local artists, including Peg Hanson, who makes art out of woven belts. When looking for artists to represent, Hansen said the main focus is on people who upcycle items.
“We’re big fans of upcycling — we’re huge on it — that’s our big deal. We like things that are made from something else,” Hansen said.
Hansen met his wife in Colorado, where he was building electric cars. Together, they moved to Florida before relocating to Maine.
“We decided to get out of the heat and closer to family,” Hansen said.
Gamber, a Maine native, and the rest of the family now live in Bangor, not far from the shop.
Hansen has a storied background. For a time he worked on rebuilding engines for 1940s Hiller helicopters. He also worked for 25 years as a lighting designer, touring with groups like Air Supply and The Brian Setzer Orchestra, and he also has done shows as a lighting designer with bands such as Slayer and Weezer. He said that he stopped working in that field when he moved to Maine, but Retro Swagger and other ventures, like graphic design, keep him busy.
“I’ll tell you, the downtown business community here is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Everyone works together to help out each other,” Hansen said.
Retro Swagger is one of the Find Waldo Local locations, a program that I wrote about last week. Hansen said he had at least 20 people walk through the store’s doors on Monday just from that, and that he appreciates all the work people like Gibran Graham, the marketing manager of The Briar Patch, do for Bangor.
As far as the contents of the store go, there also are lots of clothes from varying decades. I noticed quite a few dresses that looked like they came straight from the ‘80s.
“We are a thrift shop — all our prices, I think, are awesome. All kids’ clothes are $2 all the time, no matter what it is,” Hansen said.
There are a few items that are a bit pricier, such as a 1940s Hamilton drafting table that’s several hundred dollars, which Hansen rebuilt.
“This thing was destroyed in someone’s trash,” Hansen said, showing me the cast-iron base of the heavy-duty table. “I rebuilt the whole top myself using the same materials they would have — maple.”
As for the other art, it all falls within a reasonable price range — and that’s what Hansen wanted.
“We like to keep it affordable so anyone can have local art,” he said.
There’s also a program that the store has started called a “thrift club” in which they will pick out three outfits from their stock for you each month and ship them. It costs $25 and you can return them after the month is over — or, if you like them enough, you can send in something you don’t wear and keep what they sent over.
I walked out of the shop and couldn’t help but notice even more things that I’d missed on my first walk through, like whirligigs that I remembered people in my neighborhood having in their yards when I was a child. I had never seen any since, so the familiar cutouts of Snoopy and other characters, with moving parts that blow in the wind, was a bit nostalgic for me.
I think that’s how I would describe the store as a whole — nostalgic. Walking in will take you back in time, and for me, that was what was most fun about it.
If you want to check it out yourself, it’s open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week — I’m sure you’ll find something unique to bring home.