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Catching up with the past

Mid-century-themed mall sparks trend of downtown Beaverton vintage shops

It’s fair to assume a 40-something who runs a vintage goods mall with a mid-20th-century, popular-culture theme has a nostalgic bone or two in his body.

While Travis Diskin, owner of Curiosities — A Vintage Mall, indulges his fondness for faded fashions, he’s simultaneously celebrating the evolution of a movement that resonates loudly in today’s culture.

“My belief is that the ‘70s and ‘80s was the birth of geek culture and our desire for those things — the affinity for comics, sci-fi, toys of that period,” he says, crediting a mid-1960s TV show and a wildly popular 1977 movie with codifying the movement. “In a lot of ways, ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars’ were the catalysts for the whole cultural shift. I don’t know what geeks did before.”

These days, many of the “geeks” Diskin refers to spend time collecting, buying and selling the endless array of items found at Curiosities, located at 12705 S.W. Beaverdam Road, in downtown Beaverton. Diskin, 44, and his business partner Jennifer Barker opened the sprawling mall, where 65 vendors have booths or sections, in early 2013. From period dresses and jewelry to classic board games, toys and the Sputnik-era ephemera of lava lamps, travel bars and black dial phones, Curiosities is as much a mid-town time machine as source of hard-to-locate merchandise.

“My (nostalgia) is really rooted in a deep curiosity for all things,” says Diskin, an eight-year Beaverton resident. “I ask questions about everything. I want to know everything I can about process and history.”

Diskin and Barker whetted their vintage appetites as dealers at Robin and Wren, a more old-school Hillsdale neighborhood mall that closed in December 2012.

“It was a different feel,” Diskin says. “It was more an old-school antique vintage mall. The kind that’s fading.”

After working for years in politically based public relations and marketing, including initiative campaigns and a role in Ralph Nader’s 2004 presidential campaign, Diskin decided it was time to pursue a steadier, less episodic, calling.

“In politics, my expertise was only applied for six months every two years,” he says. “I wanted something to bridge the gap. I decided to follow a passion.”

To generate enthusiasm for his fledgling vendor collective, Diskin and Barker staged an open house weekend with mocked-up booths. Soon, they opened Curiosities with 25 vendors.

To capitalize on similar merchandise themes, Diskin developed specialized areas in the cavernous, high-ceilinged mall. Mirror, Mirror, is a vintage fashion consignment boutique, while The Man Cave concentrates masculine-oriented curiosities such as dart boards, hardware, model trucks and petroleum and gas station-centric signage.

“We had two or three applicants who were very much focused on man-centric things — toys, hardware, ‘petroliana’ signage, that kind of thing,” Diskin says. “It just seemed natural to put them in the same area and call it ‘The Man Cave.’”

While Curiosities attracts shoppers of all ages, Diskin has noticed a trend in how vintage-minded shoppers pursue their passions for the past.

“I really find that people who have a penchant for nostalgia want to buy things their grandparents had. They skip a generation,” he says. “The things their parents had are old, but the things their grandparents had were cool. I see a shift in market, in what’s desirable and in demand, to the mid-century modern style.”

Cedar Hills resident Rob Nowell shopped Curiosities a few days before Christmas with his wife, Tina, who clutched a Scrabble sentence cube she came across at one booth.

“It’s fun to see the unique old collectible items that they set aside as interesting that have made it through the years,” Rob Nowell says. “It’s pretty cool.”

Vendor Selena Boone, 30, who operates the “Vintage Bombshell” clothing and furniture boutique in Curiosities, found her way to the vintage vending realm after working in banking and furniture refinishing.

“My mom got me into looking at yard sales,” she says. “It’s fun to finally have a physical space where friends have a place to come to look at my pieces.”

She likes Diskin’s familial approach to the mall’s vendors, with potluck dinners and seasonal parties facilitating camaraderie and new ideas for the space.

“Travis and Jennifer do a great job making us feel like a family,” she says. “We got three or four new vendors in the mall this month and had a potluck. It was great to meet other dealers and people who are seasoned who can help you with your space. It helps to create community.”

Since he opened Curiosities, Diskin has noticed a mini-renaissance of vintage- and antique-minded stores in the Central Beaverton business district, including Penelope’s Hope Chest at 3837 S.W. Hall Blvd., Peonies & Possibilities at 12590 S.W. Broadway St., Rose City Modern at 12675 S.W. First St. and the Garage Sale Warehouse at 4810 S.W. Western Ave.

Rather than fearing competition, he views the trend as positive for his business and the community in general.

“We all carry such one-off things,” he says. “It serves to bring people from all over the state, even out of state. In two years we’ve gone from having no vintage stores here to six spaces.”

Fully aware that vintage stores are often known for peddling kitsch and misfit items, Diskin truly believes the measure of treasure comes from the heart of the shopper.

“I don’t think anything in here is tacky, because it speaks to the individual person’s taste,” he says. “If something is over the top, it says that person is fully committed to that style.”

That said, the type of vendors and the customers it attracts make Curiosities a boredom-free zone.

“We have quite a cast of characters,” he says.


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