Walking into Rehab Vintage in Kent is like stepping back two decades, when Cyndi Lauper ruled the airwaves and Izod cardigans were really, really cool. Paintings of purple clouds and neon graphic cones designed by local artist Justin Roberts hang on the walls above the cash register. Behind the counter, owner Jessica Wheeler tucks a piece of her platinum blond hair behind her ear as she folds and labels a pair of faded vintage Levis ($12).
The store is coordinated by theme and color, making it easy to navigate. There are racks for cardigans ($14-$26), racks for old concert T-shirts, racks for vintage sports uniforms, including a ’40s-era bathing suit (made from wool — yes, you read that right).
“We’d like to group things by size,” Wheeler says. “But the problem with selling vintage clothes is that there’s either no size listed or the size that is listed is nowhere near the size it is today.”
Wheeler, a 31-year-old graduate of Kent State University, opened Rehab Vintage in August after tiring of her eight-year career as an accountant. Around the time she began mulling a job change, the city of Kent announced the construction of a new downtown shopping district called Acorn Alley. The timing and location was perfect.
“I wanted to sell the kind of clothes I wear,” Wheeler says. “And I knew, living here and going to college here, there was no place that sold vintage clothes of this caliber anywhere nearby.”
Many of Wheeler’s most dedicated customers are college students who spend hours in the store trying on old, worn red leather boots ($32) and authentic jersey-cotton WMMS radio shirts ($48). Wheeler gets most of her wares from Atlanta and Texas vintage wholesalers. She specifically searches out concert T-shirts, cowboy boots and varsity letter cardigans. “They’re really trendy right now,” she says.
In turn, Wheeler supports Kent’s School of Fashion Design, keeping a corner of her store reserved for the students’ works. On display are hand-designed, studded rocker shirts. The students get to keep a portion of the total sales.
The inventory is updated weekly so customers will always have new treasures to discover. “I keep the store stocked with cool, comfortable pieces that people can wear every day,” Wheeler says, pausing for a beat. “Well, at least, I think they’re cool. Hopefully others agree.”