By Ian Taylor
Places like New York and Los Angeles are usually what come to people’s minds when they think about cultural hubs, but shops like Wang’s Vintage are making sure that Arizona gives the aforementioned cities a run for their money.
I heard about Wang’s Vintage through an employee at a different vintage clothing shop. I was trying to find people to interview for a separate story about the vintage scene in Arizona. I almost didn’t even go in, because it had been a long and hot day, and I was tired and hungry. However, I couldn’t be more thankful that I did, because what I found was one of the most dedicated and welcoming spaces I’ve ever had the pleasure of discovering.
Wang’s Vintage is a vintage-focused offshoot of Wang’s Closet, a streetwear/resale shop established in 2015 (Wang’s is a loose acronym of “Wake and Grow”). As said by the owner, Noah Vizzerra, “We started creating such a big vintage collection that we knew we needed to open a dedicated space.” “Dedicated” is putting it lightly. Vizzerra himself is perhaps the most passionate and authentic person I’ve ever met within this ever-changing secondhand fashion culture. The man eats, sleeps and breathes vintage. According to him, he was wearing vintage tees and Levi’s since he was a baby, thanks to his father, whose vintage wholesale business greatly influenced Vizzerra’s own life and ventures.
Vizzerra’s history with vintage isn’t the only factor that makes Wang’s shine. The shop itself feels more like a passionate artist’s studio than a clothing store. Walking in, you’re graced with the comforting rustic scent of vintage clothing, toys and cultural memorabilia. A few feet from the doorway is a vintage couch draped with quilts and stuffed animals. To the left of the couch sits a small JVC television propped on two Xboxes stacked on top of an amp, with the TV playing an old WWE VCR tape. To the right is a well-worn trunk filled with rare music cassettes, which came from a former customer who lived in his van. That’s just the tip of the massive iceberg of decor which defines Wang’s individuality. The decor isn’t just there for the sake of being cool, however. When I asked Vizzerra how everything fell into place, he told me he “just went to thrift stores and antique stores and bought everything that reminded me of my childhood.” That was the starting point, and the interior decoration has only grown with contributions from the community that Wang’s has curated.
The music that fills the air consists of a multitude of different artists, such as “some Toro Y Moi, some My Bloody Valentine, like, next, you might have some Willy Nelson, and then some MF DOOM, and then some random Cuban shit,” as said by Vizzerra, who says he “likes not even knowing what’s coming up next.” Vizzerra DJs on the side, and he credits the music played in the store as a sort of test run for his setlists. The music is essential to the vibe of Wang’s, and the randomness of the songs perfectly mirrors the various trinkets and memorabilia that fill the spot.
The straightforward professionalism at the core of Wang’s creates a perfect balance with the child-like joys invoked by the decor and merchandise featured in the store. That imaginative wonder is ever-present throughout the shop, which is pivotal in its welcoming atmosphere. Anyone can walk in and find something that relates to them. Even on my first visit to the shop, I saw a “Speed Racer” tee and a VHS tape of the original “Fast and Furious,” which, as a former high school gearhead, resonated deeply with me.
This relatability is key to Wang’s essence. Pop-culture nostalgia is on full display within the walls, and you as a customer are not only invited to indulge in your interests, but you’re directly encouraged. As Vizzerra describes it, “a 15/16-year-old girl can love a Harley-Davidson shirt or a 50-year-old dude will be like, ‘Oh my god, I used to have this shirt.’” The store is free of judgment and full of passion and appreciation for what people hold near and dear to themselves, and there truly is something there for everyone.
It’s this inclusive aspect that transcends Wang’s into a true community rather than just a store. What’s more important is that “community” isn’t just a corporate buzzword used for marketing purposes, it’s a genuine definition said with pride by Vizzerra. That aspect even applies to the store’s business practices, which consist largely of trades. Vizzerra credits his laid-back attitude as a big influence on why the store works so well. He’s aware of the business benefits of the salesman attitude, and even acknowledges that he used to be that way, but he feels that he’s progressed past that point and Wang’s is better because of that. “I’ve gotten to the point in my career where I feel it’s almost more effective for me to say as little as possible and let the product do the talking. It’s also just a lack of stress. As soon as you get stressed, that’s when the ship sinks,” he says. “I think it’s in everybody’s best interest that I be in the best mood possible. For this place, at least. It’s hard not to be in a good mood in here.”
Vizzerra’s community contribution goes beyond selling clothes and vintage items. On occasion, Wang’s will host patio concerts and art shows, and Vizzerra hopes to put more effort and production value into both of those fronts. As stated earlier, Wang’s is a place of inclusion and encouragement. As the interview drew to an end, I asked Vizzerra if there were any final statements he’d like to make, and he concluded with this: “I will say, for any artist, for any creative, for any entrepreneur, if you feel crazy, that’s a good thing, and if nobody’s supporting you, and you notice it, that’s probably an even better thing. Because while your best friend from high school might not get what you’re doing, some kid halfway across the world who just saw your post about whatever you’re doing, it resonated with them. That’s important.”
Wang’s Vintage is located at 3508 N Seventh St., Suite 145, Phoenix, AZ, open every day from 12-8 p.m. Wang’s also runs a vintage and sneaker market called Wangapalooza held at Park Central Phoenix at 3110 N Central Avenue, and their next event will take place on April 16.
All photos from Ian Taylor