Cynthia of RetroSchmetro on Buying and Selling Vintage in Brooklyn


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Cynthia of Retro Schmetro, holding guard at her stoop sale in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

Cynthia of Retro Schmetro, holding guard at her stoop sale in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

Meet Cynthia Tirado, the woman behind RetroSchmetro, your one-stop shop for all things vintage and kitsch. Need a seashell covered salt and pepper shaker? How about an Elvis bust table lamp? Head on over to Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn and while you’re there, ask Cynthia about her vintage sewing patterns and (scary) dolls from the turn of last century. If you’re one of the lucky few to get a glimpse of her home, you’ll see that her entire apartment is her warehouse, stocked with merch, waiting to be unloaded during stoop sale season. You’ll get lost in the row, upon row of knick-knack and bric-a-brac, were everything, literally, is for sale. The only open space is in her kitchen were she likes to bake scrumptious cupcakes for her customers.

So if you are a chronic stoop sale shopper, get over there because Cynthia’s sales are epic. She’ll be doing them monthly so stay tuned to her Krrb corner to find out the exact dates.

Holy Mary Mother of Vintage.

Holy Mary Mother of Vintage.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Well I am an avid collector and lover of all things old. Probably should have lived in another time. After many years of wearing, decorating with, cooking with, giving as gifts and just generally living my life surrounded by my vast array of old/vintage/antique items, several years ago I reluctantly decided to turn my addiction into a business. I say reluctantly because I am inordinately attached to all of these possessions.

Where are you from and where do you currently live?

I am a New Yorker born and bred. I’ve spent the last 25 years in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

You need a book? Oh, she's got a book.

You need a book? Oh, she's got a book.

What is the most awesome thing in or about your neighborhood?

Carroll Gardens is an old heavily Italian neighborhood. As a long time resident, I know pretty much everyone and they know me. I love walking down the street and stopping to chat with neighbors, exchanging smiles and hellos. Living here is like living in a small town.

What’s your favorite place you go locally to discover hidden treasures.

Frankly, I find the majority of my treasures outside of New York, specifically on weekend trips to Pennsylvania. If I had to choose somewhere local, it would probably be the basement of a church on 7th Avenue (near Flatbush) in Park Slope. They have a thrift shop open every Saturday. Sorry but as many times as I’ve been there, I can’t recall the name of the church.

Who needs a bucket of dolls?

Who needs a bucket of dolls?

What blogs or websites do you visit regularly?

Well, Krrb of course. I spend a good deal of time on Ebay both as a seller and a buyer and to a lesser extent on Etsy. I also spend a lot of time on Google researching items I’ve acquired.

As a kid, were any of your toys and clothes hand-me-downs? Stories please!

Sorry but my mother liked only new merchandise. As a result my two sisters and I never really got any hand-me-downs. This is especially ironic because all three of us ended up being lovers of old things. One is a high end Antiques dealer in Austin, Texas. The other deals in early 20th century paintings in Manhattan. My daughter wore and played with nothing but second hand clothes and toys throughout her childhood. I was always dragging her to stoop sales and rummage sales. She once commented that until she was in her teens she thought a church was a place you went to buy used merchandise.

Today, how often do you go to garage sales, flea markets, etc.? What is your modus operandi? Any personal tips you’d like to share?

Here in Brooklyn I go to stoop sales and/or church sales pretty much every weekend. Flea markets occasionally. I go to Pennsylvania as often as I can and when I’m there I go to a plethora of yard sales and flea markets. In Brooklyn I always have my trusted shopping cart with me for all the treasures I hope to find. As for tips, at this point I am often buying things to sell so cost is a big issue. I am a big believer in bargaining. Also, if you ask someone the price of an item and instead of answering you they say something like “Now that vase belonged to my Great Aunt Tillie who passed away in 1947” …….beware . The price when they finally get around to telling you is going to be high.

Buyers travel far and wide to get their paws on Cynthia's vintage patterns and magazines.

Buyers travel far and wide to get their paws on Cynthia's vintage patterns and magazines.

Have you ever taken home an object you found in the street or dumpster? If so, what was it? And where is it now?

Frequently. For about 20 years I had an answering machine I used that I found in someone’s garbage around the corner from my house. I have a wicker dresser in my bedroom that I found in the street around 10 years ago.

Are you a hoarder or a minimalist?

Totally a hoarder.

What is your most cherished thrifted, secondhand, vintage, upcycled object you possess? What’s the story behind it?

That’s a tough one. There are several but I guess number one would be a toy tin washing machine which when wound up actually has a moving spinner. It’s probably from the 40’s or 50’s, is in great condition and works perfectly. I got it at a church rummage sale in Slatington Pa many years ago . It is one of many prized possessions that will some day belong to my daughter and then to my daughter’s daughter.

Do you create/make things? What are you working on these days?

I used to make jewelry but at this point I am really involved in my Antiques / Collectibles business and devote most of my time to that.

This is about one 50th of the amount of salt and pepper shakers Cynthia owns and sells.

This is about one 50th of the amount of salt and pepper shakers Cynthia owns and sells.

By the way, what’s your day job?

I am now retired so my day job is lying around eating bonbons, reading British novels and watching old movies.

Sounds awesome. Thanks Cynthia!

The Short List

Find Cynthia