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Beggars can be choosy once more

A Pittsboro vintage boutique reopens

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beg (beg) v. 1 To ask for or solicit in charity. 2 To entreat of; beseech

choose (chooz) v. 1 To select among others or as an alternative. 2 To desire or prefer

As a child, I was taught that it is most impolite to beg. "Begging is a sign of utmost greed and low station in life," my mother often admonished me. "It puts the beggar in the position of having to depend on others--whether willingly or unwillingly--and the benefactor in the position of having to support others--whether willingly or unwillingly." (This of course did not stop mother from soliciting, from father, the capital to purchase a Lilli Ann mohair coat--"strategic nagging" she called it--or me from later acquiring this coveted treasure in finishing school.) But begging, however lamentable, has never, and I daresay, will never go out of style. From panhandlers to politicians, this particular mode of acquiring wealth is stitched into the very inseam of the nation. And especially in the vintage industry, where fashions change hands and estates regularly, knowing how to beg, from whom to beg and for what to beg is an absolute must.

On U.S. 15-501 in Pittsboro stands one of the Triangle's greatest storehouses of acquired merchandise. In this very structure--known to folks near and far as Beggars and Choosers--Pam Smith has, for 27 years, amassed and peddled the rare treasures of others.

Pam, who received a degree in psychology and sociology from East Carolina University, soon "found out there was absolutely nothing you could do with it, unless you went for further education." She then went into nursing, where she "found out I didn't have the compassion for sick people." After returning to North Carolina from Atlanta and realizing she was "totally unemployable," Pam attempted a career in social work, where she found she loved her clients but hated the bureaucracy. Husband Snuffy Smith to the rescue--he suggested that Pam open up a junk store.

"I started collecting vintage clothing when I was a teenager and in college ... but after children, I couldn't wear them," she says. (Thank heavens Pam is a charitable woman. Why, there are millions of us in the world who require vintage, too!)

"I was so worried when we opened the doors because I knew we didn't have the first month's payment in the bank," says Pam. "[But] the business was successful from the day it opened. And that was because the kind of people who shop in places like this, they're fashion victims. And I realized the reason we clicked and identified with them is because I was pretty much one of those people that didn't quite fit the norm, too."

Pam, Snuffy and sons Noah and Jones recently closed the shop for renovations--"We bought the building in 1980 ... [and] we had to move right in. So we moved in on 1964 carpet. It was time for the carpet to go!"--and are reopening with a celebration Friday night, Sept. 10. Also undergoing drastic renovations are Pam's prices: Choosy beggars will now find the majority of clothing tagged at $5-$15, though Pam says, "Nothing is written in blood."

"I could see that the economy was changing, and people don't have the money to be frivolous anymore," says Pam. "As I started doing the refurbishing, I started looking at my prices and I'm going, 'Okay, it's time to give a deal.' You know, to give a break."

A lot of the price-cutting is targeted toward college students, whom Pam has missed dreadfully these past months. "I really want to see the students back ... I just love the young kids ... they've kept me vibrant."

The upstairs clothing section--recently dubbed F.I.P. (Fashion Institute of Pittsboro), will also feature fashions from rotating designers with slightly higher prices. (Two of these higher-priced designs accost me--and join me--on my way out. For upkeep, Pam suggests I spray the fur collar once a year with ice cold water, shake it out and let it dry. "It'll keep the sheen," she says.) Sixties designer Don Caster will be displayed for the grand opening; on the street level, household collectibles are showcased, while the basement is a grab bag of miscellaneous items ranging from $5 to free.

"You know I keep my customers," says Pam. "They graduate from college and they go on to other things, but when they come back, they can't wait to come here."

Beggars and Choosers reopens Friday, Sept. 10, 7-10 p.m. Opening festivities include music by The Never, an art opening at Side Street Gallery and a sidewalk fashion parade--guests are encouraged to "dress outrageously." 38 Hillsboro St., Pittsboro. 542-5884 for information and directions.

And now, folks, I leave you with our fashion word of the month: Vintage, meaning "classic fashions from the past." Vintage can also be applied to styles, people and behaviors, as in: "My, your haircut is so ... vintage," or "Burt Reynolds is quite the vintage actor," or "Global-imperialism-with-intention-to-dominate-the-world is completely vintage!"

E-mail your own uses or local observations of "vintage" applications to editors@indyweek.com, subject line "Mauvisms." Your most original usage will be published in next month's column. (And be sure to look for us every second week of the month.)

Now let's go out there and look fabulous!

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