by third-year Laura Pontari
On any given day a walk through downtown Athens is filled with window displays of everything imaginable, from game day wear to unique vintage finds. Our wonderful city is home to over 150 small businesses, most of which are owned by Athens locals. In an attempt to learn the stories behind my favorite local businesses, I wanted to talk to the people who know them best. I chose Agora Vintage, located on Broad next to Starbucks, because of the memorable woman behind it.
My first visit to Agora Vintage occurred one year ago. As I walked past the window display I was drawn to the wall of Louis Vuitton luggage and I just had to know, ”Are they real?” Owner Airee Edwards was more than happy to answer, confirming that every designer item in the store was authentic. She explained the history of each piece I examined with amazing detail, as if she were a museum curator describing a piece of art. I confessed to her my love of the 1950’s (and my college budget) and she led me to a 1950’s gold tassel necklace, which I bought for myself as a Happy-Wednesday present. I walked away smiling, knowing I had found my new favorite store.
One year later I sat down with Ms. Edwards to find out how Agora Vintage came to be. I opened with a simple question: “Why did you start Agora vintage?” Ms. Edwards explained that she had opened Agora’s sister store, Agora Vintage Co-Op, 13 years earlier and had always dreamed of having a store to showcase her favorite vintage finds. Although she had the opportunity to expand her business with a branch in New York, she chose to stay in Athens. “There’s just something special about Athens. I wanted to offer [students] something they couldn’t find anywhere else in the city.” The concept of the store is to showcase Ms. Edwards’s favorite pieces as if the store were a museum exhibit. She views her vintage items as artifacts, each with its own unique backstory. Many of her pieces are items she found in Europe and brought back to the U.S. An art lover of all kinds, Ms. Edwards has close ties to the Georgia Museum of Art and serves on its board. Her passion for art as well as her experience with the museum is displayed through her carefully curated collection. Through Agora Vintage she hopes to gives these pieces of history a new life and create a renewed interest in vintage clothing.
When I listened to Ms. Edwards talk about each item it was apparent that her ties to the store are very personal. I asked to see her favorite in-store pieces and she steered me toward the window display, which contained a wire bust sculpture. She explained that the sculpture had been created by a local Athens artist and was used to add interest to the window display. We then examined the store’s interior, where she explained that the cabinets and shelving system had been designed by her husband and built by a local Athens carpenter. It then became apparent that Agora Vintage isn’t just about Ms. Edwards; her commitment to employing local artists and showcasing them among her vintage treasures truly makes Agora Vintage a community effort.
I believe more than ever that Agora Vintage represents the essence of our city. What I love about it is what I love about Athens: it finds the beauty in the unexpected and celebrates the unabashedly unique. Ms. Edwards’ goal was simple: bring the beauty of vintage clothing to Athens and teach its residents something along the way. Based on my experience at Agora Vintage, I believe that she has succeeded.
photo by Urvashi Pandya