Avalon Exchange is a hipster heaven

by Stephanie Marcone

White go-go boots. A sequin dress mimicking the British flag. Feathered boas, a red flapper dress and a cobalt blue wig. Suede sneakers, a flannel with a large foam hamburger on top. A shaggy wig popping out of the head of a cloth version of the Mona Lisa. It’s clear that the four mannequins in the window are ready to party.

Step through the door at 5858 Forbes Avenue to activate the pulley system that dangles larger-than-life sized black, fuzzy spiders and bats overhead. It’s Halloween season at Avalon Exchange.

October brings some tweaks in style, but generally, the merchandise at Avalon stays the same. Racks of clothes that offer grandma-style cardigans, hipster-friendly velvet pants and styles of all generations fill the store, backed by a playlist of synthesizers, indie rock, hip-hop and funk.

An Avalon employee puts the finishing fashionable touches on a mannequin.
Photo by Shihui Peng

Manager Danny Gurwin says that the store creates an opportunity for shoppers to dress for success in a way that doesn’t scream “strip mall.” Want to stand out from the crowd? Sift through the clothes at Avalon.

“We buy, sell and trade vintage and contemporary clothes. We try our best to provide unique, alternative clothing, unlike the big chain stores,” Gurwin says.

The store’s stock intake process, as well as its decidedly hip taste, is what sets Avalon apart from other resale stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army.

Avalon Exchange is in control of the store’s collection — employees carefully select the gently worn vintage clothing and accessories from the heaping bags customers bring in.

Squirrel Hill itself is a melting pot, and the eclectic couture sold at the boutique is a staple of the

neighborhood. People of all ages and both genders appreciate Avalon’s inexpensive, eclectic fashion.

“They have a good eye,” says shopper Travis Fluck, appreciating the store’s offerings. Fluck strolls up and down the aisles of the store with his friend Tal Chayon, who is visiting from out of town.

“Thift shop flannels are the key to happiness,” Chayon says. “I am a Vermont lumberjack chopping mossy logs for firewood, and he’s just a rhinestone cowboy.”

Chayon, 29, holds up an autumn color-schemed long-sleeved garment, comparing the flannels he and Fluck, 33, plucked from a rack in the back of the store.

“It’s definitely a frugal way to keep clothed and explore trends. Stores like this offer a melting pot of trends and years in one store,” he says.

This is Chayon’s first visit to Avalon, but he’s no stranger to retail, since his family owns a clothing store in New Jersey. He grabs another flannel and inspects it closely.

“I grew up in a store where we catered to people wanting to stand out and I just want to blend into the foliage,” he says, holding the shirt.

And even if he wants items that stand out, he’s in the perfect place. Here, customers can find chic designer items like a Betsey Johnson watch with gems and a Chanel black belt or obscure items like Harley Davidson denim shirts, woven ponchos, dashikis and

bright swishy tracksuits made of triacetate and mesh. While trying on snakeskin platform heels, customers can sit on a green-painted chair with an 8-bit floral pattern on the cushions.

What fascinates customers, though, is the fact that Avalon saves styles that went on hiatus or disappeared altogether.

“Follow the article,” he says. “It’s here now, but this may be sourced

to have been made 30 years ago 3,000 miles away and then it ended up in a retail store. There is where a man might have made the decision to take it home with him and then it went on a journey with him in his world. Maybe he got married had a wife and, later, kids. For a while over time, the flannel existed in the family’s realm. At some point, they might have decided to downsize and now it’s back in the mix. Consider the story.”




Behind the counter, there are friendly employees who fit the store’s unique outlook on retail. The owner, Stewart McLean, dons tight, pastel yellow skinny jeans. The Squirrel Hill Avalon Exchange

is McLean’s first store; it opened before the other locations in St. Louis and Cleveland. His employees, Danny, Bri, Collin, Jenna, Alyssa and Amelia help keep the boutique in order.

In October, the coworkers are supposed to wear costumes to work. However, today, all the employees forgot — all except Jenna Manning, who stands out in her black tights, boots, dark brown low pigtails, red lipstick, drawn on heart-shaped nose and mouse ears.

“I hate you guys,” Manning says. She’s embarrassed to be the only one in costume.

“I am so sorry, but you do look really cute,” the other manager, Bri Proctor, says.

The counter is their domain: they answer phone calls, sort through endless bags of clothes and check out customers and prospective colors. There’s another perk to their job, though — they get to choose the music.

Music of all genres and generations also recycles its way through the speakers mounted on the walls in the boutique. Avalon Exchange’s natural sound is a combination that includes a 1990s Casio keyboard, Black Sabbath, Tina Turner, Usher, Marilyn Manson, Run DMC and various instrumental artists.

And the music merely reflects the diversity of the options the store offers. What one person may no longer have use for, whether it be a pair of sunglasses, an acid wash jean jacket, a Victorian piece of furniture or a song, will find its home in Avalon Exchange.