From the hand-written notes promoting peace and love sketched around John Lennon and George Harrison on a Beatles poster, to the funky apparel amassed all through bygone eras, every item packed inside Andra Uecke’s vintage shop is utterly original, even down to the unscathed McCall’s issues on the table.
“Everything in here is uniquely one-of-a-kind,” said Uecke, 48, while wearing a ‘70s mix of jeans, vintage chain belt, a raisin leather jacket, cream-colored shirt and necklace as she opened her store, Hippie Kat, for another business day.
At 314 N. Fourth St., in a former storage space that housed a neighboring restaurant’s stuff, Uecke created a shop to display the ‘40s through ‘80s sweaters, shirts, dresses, hats, necklaces and more she’s been collecting since her youth in Manhattan Beach, Calif. The idea for the boutique came about several years after Uecke moved to North Idaho in 1992. Since moving to the area, she’s worked as a pharmacy technician and attended beauty school, until about three years ago when Uecke starting selling clothes through a smaller shop in town.
“I’ve always wanted to have my own store,” Uecke said. As for the business she had in mind, she added, “Every town has a really cool vintage store, except us.”
Once she’d decided to open her own boutique, it took about $15,000 to remodel the downtown space, including knocking down a wall, adding a counter, and tearing out the ceiling to expose the wooden rafters. After a few months of work, Uecke was ready for business earlier this year.
Some of Hippie Kat’s items are from Uecke’s personal collection, some of which are still stuffed in boxes at her home. Others have been hand picked by the store owner from regular trips to wholesalers in her home state or from customers who bring in items to the shop. As the lone employee, Uecke carries everything from beaded necklaces and knitted hats, to Jackie Onassis-inspired styles and men’s coats and vintage ties, with prices ranging from $4 to $350.
“You have to really keep an eye on what’s trendy,” Uecke said about keeping her store’s stock of merchandise fresh. “Stuff does come back, but it’s usually the best. I’m always on top of what’s going on.”
However, she added, the great thing about vintage clothing is “it never goes away, it just keeps on going.”
Since so much of her collection is hand picked – including 47 pounds of clothing she brought back from a recent Southern California trip – Uecke said, “Basically I’m personal shopping for people who like what I wear.”
Tanna Loubek is a Hippie Kat shopper who has come to trust the owner’s style since she first stopped by Hippie Kat several months ago, and she’s been making regular trips back to checkout what’s new. “We don’t have a store like that in Coeur d’Alene,” Loubek said in a phone interview. “I shop there a ton.
“I think what I really like is (Uecke) has very unique pieces, quality pieces and good prices … She’s always bringing new stuff in there and keeping it fresh, so it never gets stagnant.”
And with Uecke’s style in the mix, Loubek added that she’s “able to match you up with the perfect outfit.”
For Uecke, that business concept of keeping things fresh by adding in the old has been a lifetime undertaking, fine-tuned through the years with plenty of proof that has yet to hit Hippie Kat’s shelves. It’s just that now she can make a living through her life-long hobby.
“It’s been fantastic,” Uecke said. “The reality of it hits and I’m like, ‘I have my own store.’ It’s exactly how I expected it to be.”