When you stay in the vintage clothing business as long as Jon and Donna McCormack, a vintage era doesn’t seem that long ago.
Be careful, in other words, what you call old. The preferred nomenclature for the McCormack’s anyway will soon be “retired.”
The pair will be closing shop at their Aaardvark Costume & Vintage Clothing Store in Redondo Beach after Halloween this year, capping 46 years in business. While the shop on Artesia Boulevard continues to do well, the couple has decided it’s time to enjoy themselves.
“I have mixed feelings,” Donna said. “I’m just looking forward to doing what I want do every day.”
The pair started working in 1972 at Aaardvark’s Odd Ark in Hermosa Beach shortly after moving in together in a nearby apartment.
They went on to manage the shop under owner Joe Stromei, who opened a total of nine stores in Southern California and Berkeley including one on Melrose Avenue that set the stage for a fashion renaissance on the street.
In 1984 they bought the Hermosa store from Stromei, who died in 2008 leaving the business to his kids who sold it and the shops closed soon after leaving Hermosa Beach as the remaining Aaardvark’s.
The McCormacks moved the store from Hermosa to Redondo Beach in 2006. Over the years the shop has evolved from being predominantly vintage clothing to now being mostly new costumes.
Name the costume or party craze of the day and Aaardvark was on top of it, from ugly sweaters to outlandish faux-pimp garb, Donna was mostly the one who could spot the trends.
“People would start asking for something, things we thought were weird,” Donna said.
When young men started asking for Bermuda shorts, she told Jon she had a feeling about it.
“I said to him you need to get some Bermuda shorts, and he said, ‘No way,’” she said.
A few weeks later Jon said they “couldn’t keep them on the racks.”
Then there were Ocean Pacific “OP” shorts – 3,0000 of them sold at the store.
“I kept thinking this isn’t going to last,” Jon said. “And they did.”
Donna said what it took was listening to people.
“If you come in and ask for some random thing I’m not going to make a space for that,” she said. “But if enough people ask for it, you have to decide is it going to be worth it for me to carry it and then you do and you’re really glad because it turns out well.”
It was in the 1970s and 1980s that were really the heyday of the Hermosa Beach shop where stars such as Robin Williams, Pam Dawber and Bruce Springsteen would stop by frequently.
Dawber lived on the beach and celebrities would often visit her. Aaardvark’s was where Williams got a lot of his wild Hawaiian shirts, McCormack said.
“We would have really nice 30s and 40s neglige and gowns, stuff you couldn’t find anymore,” Jon said. “It was true vintage that was very nice and we had a good selection and they knew it.”
Then there was the time Shaquille O’Neil stopped by in the early 1990s and dropped a stink bomb from the nearby joke shop.
“That wasn’t the best memory,” Jon said.
Before deciding to close the shop, the McCormacks tried selling the business, but did not get any offers.
“Let’s face it, people are a little shy about retail right now,” Jon said.
Americans throw away a lot of clothes, a lot of good clothes, something that’s made selling vintage clothes possible all these years, according to Jon.
Looking back on the decades spent in the retail business, Jon said he has a feeling of gratitude for all the customers.
“We have people who still come in today who were teenagers when they first came in and they bring their grand kids in now,” he said. “It almost gives me goose bumps. If it wasn’t for those people we wouldn’t be here. We really do appreciate the support.”
Aaardvark in Redondo Beach, located at 2621 Artesia Blvd, will begin its clearance sale Sept. 4 and run through Halloween. For more information call (310) 370-6500 or visit Aaardvarks.com.