Vintage effort, a vague future
Barbara Pisch was about 20 years old when she realized she had to save Eastern Europe’s past.
Not all of it. Just the fabric, specifically antique homespun handwoven hemp linen textiles. Having immigrated from Slovakia as a child with her parents, she had discovered such pieces in her grandmother’s pantry and attic.
“I loved them right away,” Pisch said. “I had a strong reaction to them.” Now she fills the light wood bookshelves in Patriae, her store at 713 Bangs Ave. here, with bolts, greige tote bags and natural tunics all made of the creamy old cloth.
“People were just throwing this stuff out,” Pisch said of the deadstock rolls, sheets, towels and wagon covers she has salvaged from flea markets and the homes of friends’ parents during regular pilgrimages to the old country. “I had this feeling. Like, ‘Oh my God, I have to save this piece of history.’ ”
Pisch could have easily been talking about Asbury Park. For years, the area was defined by crumbling 100-year-old buildings, desolation, government corruption and poverty.
But after an influx of the LGBTQ community, along with dedicated music fans, artists’ collectives, historians, locals and a partnership between two major developers, Madison Marquette and iStar, the recent revival of this small city includes not only a deep dedication to its own relics, but also a growing contingent of merchants and artists interested in preserving the past.
Joey Pisch, Pisch’s brother and the owner of Sweet Joey’s (523 Bangs Ave.), has been here for seven years. “Bangs was off the beaten path, but we like that,” Pisch said of the now thriving district, about half a mile from the beach.
The Pisch siblings scour for vintage items together and collaborated on designing a Grateful Dead T-shirt that singer John Mayer wore last summer to one of his gigs.
This year, Joey Pisch began a self-described “economy rock ‘n’ roll” sunglasses company, with frames inspired by Buddy Holly and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Next, he said, his company will design a wraparound style Lou Reed made famous in the 1960s.
The vintage shops are mostly located east of the town’s railroad tracks, not on the West Side, where riots in 1970 took place and most commercial buildings were destroyed.
According to the United States census, 48.5 per cent of Asbury Park’s residents are Black, yet store owners are predominantly white. Sylvia Sylvia-Cioffi, the executive director of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, said that as redevelopment continued, particularly on the West Side, she anticipates more merchants of colour would be represented.
“Our philosophy is that we’re on the West Side,” Sylvia-Cioffi said of her office building, on Springwood Ave. “It makes a real statement that the chamber is here where the next phase of development is really needed and supported.”
Joey Pisch’s shop, Sweet Joey’s, is part of the recent revival in Asbury Park, N.J.