Behold: NorthernGRADE. Every September, some of the movers and shakers in American-made menswear descend into the cluttered, boozy labyrinth of the Architectural Antiques in Minneapolis to hawk their wares.
Inspired by NYC's Pop Up Flea, the ladies and gentlemen at J.W. Hulme Company and Pierrepont Hicks tie shop decided to add the Midwest to the conversation by founding their own market in 2010—which makes this the second of a (hopefully) annual tradition.
I hitched a ride up to the fest for the launch of Buckshot Sonny's, Max Wastler and Joe Gannon's vintage sporting goods store. (If you're not familiar yet, you should be.) It was hard to contain the excitement as it built over the 7.5-hour drive, and it wasn't long before there were copious amounts of rapping during the 3G-less stretches of Wisconsin and Minnesota. When we arrived, we weren't disappointed. What follow are simply snapshots punctuated by a few important quotes, because like many of the best experiences—you just kinda had to be there. Next year's your chance.
Buckshot Sonny's, named after Joe's grandfather Sonny and Max's dad, who they called 'Buckshot' as a kid, is "the store your grandfather would have taken your father to for his first baseball glove."
- "We want one of our baseballs or footballs to be the family picnic ball. When we're done, I'll give it to my son, and he'll give it to his, maybe." — Joe Gannon
Red Wing, this year's main sponsor.
Intelligentsia coffee was on site.
The incomparable Billy Moore, of Cause and Effect, hawking his skins. "Buy some belts!" he barks.
One of the (many) interesting things about Billy is that he's not much for the indecisive. Like a maverick who pops up unannounced at spots all across the country, it's "Buy a belt here and now, or wait and see where I appear next."
And his process is nothing if not unique. It's all about the story for Cause and Effect—whether it's wading into a Tennessee river to drape a hide over a big, wet rock or hammering belts on a cobbled New York street.
You can read more about his process over at All PlaidOut, but here's a bit of lore he shared with me about his mysterious Mason jar full of moonshine. This particular batch, Billy says, was made by the son of Popcorn Sutton, the legendary Tennessee moonshiner. No one's heard from him since around 2009...possibly because he may not be alive any more.
"Popcorn Sutton been caught by the ATF for the fifth time," Billy says. "He had about 5,000 quarts of moonshine, and they were going to give him 30 days a gallon."The story goes that he killed himself rather than go to prison. But here's the thing: The only people who saw him dead were the sheriff and the coroner—who both happened to be his cousins."
The trick is to take a breath before you take a drink.
Billy had me make a belt, which you'll see in coming posts as we track its progress from natural leather to seasoned beauty.
I had a chance to chat with Molly Solberg, Duluth Pack's marketing director, who filled me in on why the company's heritage matters to so many people:
- "We're fashionable because we're 120-plus years old, not because we're a flash in the pan."
- "You can walk into Walmart and by a $20 bag every season or spend $115 on one of ours and never buy another."
- "Every day, I walk through the sewing room. You'll see a bag made by Linda, a breast cancer survivor. We have a sewer, Suzie, who's been here for 20 years. Whatever we can do to help Suzie as she puts her kids through college, we're going to do."
- "Ultimately, you're employing Minnesotans and saving money over the long run."
A clever business card from Angie Sheldon.
On the culture of NorthernGRADE:
- 'Zen' Pomazi, one of the purveyors of Greenwich Vintage, is finding that men take a little longer to care about appearance and quality these days. But eventually, he says, a nostalgia kicks in, even though it might be for something they've never experienced themselves.
- "Guys get to a certain age—maybe they're getting married, maybe they're having kids—and they start to pay attention," Zen says. "They see some of this stuff, and they remember Dad."
And this, from Noah Zagor, is perhaps the best summation of why any of this matters:
"I had an uncle who was a geology professor at Oxford University," Noah says. "I remember visiting him, and he would point to the motto emblazoned on the gates: 'Manners Makyth Man.'"
Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed the above quote. Our sincerest apologies to Noah. We regret the error.