A Penchant for Vintage

by Gabrielle Balzell

Just off the beaten path of the Peoria riverfront, take a step back in time…

On a hot, late summer’s day, I find myself outside of Ribbon Records, a gem of a shop tucked away in the Murray Building on Walnut Street. Walking inside, I’m immediately greeted by boxes, crates and walls stuffed full of vinyl records. My ears fill with that familiar ‘50s pop sound as a Shirley and Lee album spins on the turntable. A shimmering cocktail dress in the back corner catches my eye, before another of the store’s eclectic antiques draws my attention elsewhere. Clad in a ‘70s-era striped shirt, Matt McClellan, the store’s principal record buyer, reaches out to shake my hand as his girlfriend, store owner Jenny Foster, floats toward me in a circa-1950s sundress. How did this young couple come to run this time warp? Turns out, all it took was a thirst for adventure, a passion for preservation, and a lifelong love of all things vintage.

Fusing Their Fortes
Though he can’t recall the exact album that sparked his obsession, McClellan remembers scouring the area’s record stores in college, snatching up old soul 45s and jazz LPs. Having accumulated an extensive collection spanning all styles and genres, the Ohio native briefly opened his own record store before he began consigning at Ribbon, a vinyl hotspot that opened in Peoria in 2011. But in the late summer of 2012, the “Saturdays-only” shop went up for sale, presenting a prime opportunity for McClellan and his fashion-designer girlfriend.

While the couple shares a love for that unmistakable vinyl sound, Foster’s primary passion has always been fashion. Growing up in Morton, she was drawn to retro patterns and apparel at a young age, but it wasn’t until her teens that she began creating her own decades-inspired designs. “When I was in high school, my mom bought me a sewing machine,” she recalls. “I mostly wanted to be able to make my own clothes because I couldn’t afford the kinds of clothes I wanted. I was trying to make things better than what I could buy.”

Upon moving to Chicago to attend fashion school, Foster’s penchant for vintage only grew. “There were a lot of vintage stores there, and I started… buying a few things,” she says. “Then I started trying to make clothes look like they were vintage. Then, I ended up collecting a lot and altering them.”

After returning to central Illinois, she opened a studio in the Cornerstone Building, mending garments and constructing her own designs from antique patterns, but the space left little room for her one-of-a-kind finds. So when the opportunity to purchase Ribbon came about, Foster seized it, knowing the move would allow her to sell her stockpile of retro clothes and accessories, as well as McClellan’s massive vinyl collection. In September 2012, the couple fused their fortes, expanding the store’s hours and relaunching Ribbon Records as a combined record and vintage shop.

The Thrill of the Hunt
Having just celebrated its first anniversary under new ownership, Ribbon still offers an eclectic selection of vinyl, with the addition of racks full of retro women’s and men’s attire, accessories, home décor and more, dating from the 1990s to as early as the 1920s. To sustain this expansive inventory, the couple spends most of their “off” days rummaging through flea markets, antique malls and homes throughout the Midwest. Having combed countless collections in search of rare records, age-old apparel and old-fashioned novelties, both agree “the thrill of the hunt” never gets old. “[It’s] pretty addictive,” McClellan describes. And upon finding that exceptional item—whether a mint-condition 1920s flapper dress or a piece of elusive Beatles memorabilia—“You’re trying to keep a poker face.”

With their ability to score rare and unique items and maintain a diverse selection of music and clothing, the pair has garnered a loyal following. Thrifters and vintage aficionados routinely stop into the store in pursuit of rare albums, classic Bradley and ISU tees, men’s western shirts, ‘70s disco styles, ‘60s mod and hippie fashions, and fit-n’-flair ‘50s dresses. Best of all, its prices are affordable, with the majority of records retailing for $5 to $15 and most apparel between $15 and $30.

A Piece of the Past
While helping customers find that special item comes with its own kind of satisfaction, Foster’s greatest joy is preserving the past, one piece at a time. “It’s what I like doing. I get to be here, listen to good music… and fix up old clothes that need attention, and that’s fun to me,” she explains. “That is important to me. A lot of times, these clothes might end up going to a dumpster and never be seen again.”

As the renaissance of the Warehouse District unfolds, Foster and McClellan have high hopes for Ribbon’s future. For now though, the pair are happy to bring history back to life—one stitch, one spin and one sale at a time. a&s

Ribbon Records is open Wednesdays and Saturdays, 11am to 7pm, and Fridays, 2 to 9pm. For more information, call (309) 713-1006, email ribbonpeoria@gmail.com, or visit facebook.com/ribbonrecords.