Meet Paul, the owner & founder of Saint Paul's Blue Bicycle, a boutique-style shop at the intersection of Selby & Fairview – just a crosswalk away from St. Paul's Antique Mall.
A self-professed collector from an early age, Paul's love and appreciation for vintage lends itself to an ever-evolving assortment of vintage furnishings and decor dating from the Victorian period to present day. And those windows – big, beautiful display windows lovingly restore and styled to perfection to suit the changing seasons.
A few Sundays ago, I dropped by the shop to talk collecting, the mid-century modern craze and, of course, blue bicycles.
First things first. How long have you been behind the counter?
It’ll be 5 years in January – it’s been Blue Bicycle for almost 5 years. I worked with the former dealer for a year before that, before I took over. I did have retail experience before this, Pottery Barn and places like that. So I got a little primer on merchandising.
The funny thing about the shop is that when I came in here, the former dealer, he didn’t have any mid-century. He didn’t have anything upholstered. So it’s really evolved. I’m selling what people want now. I’ve learned to embrace the different styles.
What turned you onto vintage?
I’ve always been a collector, probably since I was 10 years old. I’d go to the neighbor’s barn – they had an old abandoned barn – and I’d bring home cheese boxes, old bottles, anything old that I thought was cool because we didn’t have it in the house. We didn’t have a whole lot of that in my family.
Then when I was older, I started going to shops – before there were mid-century shops of course. Anything old, anything with a history seems to have more character, to me, than anything you would buy new.
And just the variety you kind can find in vintage. With new, you can get stuck in certain styles –stuck with what’s trendy. That’s the fun part of vintage, that challenge to pull it all together.
What’s your connection to St. Paul?
I came here via Hazelden, I’m not ashamed to say. And then I decided to stay in St. Paul because things were going well. I was working in a hardware store on Grand Avenue and took to hanging out on this corner because they had a lot of antique stores here.
But this shop was always underused. It was hardly ever open. Then one day this guy stops to ask me about my bicycle. I found out he was the proprietor, so I asked him if I could work for him, so that he could have the store open more. And that’s how I entered the shop.
So the name, Blue Bicycle…
The bike that’s tied up by the stop sign is the bike the shop is named after, the one I rode in on. The original blue bicycle. So of course I’ll always have a few bicycles around (laughs).
And then it became yours.
I worked here about a year before I took over. I cleaned it up, and I restored some of the windows up front. It’s just a really good space. And there’s such a good variety here, on this corner. I just love St. Paul. I loved it immediately. I live upstairs now. So my commute is about 15 seconds (laughs). This is almost an extension of my home.
Speaking of home, what’s your place like?
My style is very eclectic, so my home is very eclectic. It’s just anything nice, from mid-century modern all the way back to the Victorian era – very eclectic. I’ve heard the term “refined eclecticism.” That would probably define my style.
What’s the one thing you’d never sell?
I don’t know that I have anything up there that I wouldn’t part with, because I change my look a lot, too. I’ll change my look up there and sell it down here and take something else home. It’s a perfect combination because you still get the thrill of the hunt, the thrill of the buy.
What about pieces that got away – or that one you just haven’t found yet?
I’m more searching for certain items just to have them in the shop than I am to have it in my home. I’ve had a few pieces in the shop that I’ve been tempted to drag up there, but it’s fun to share it, move it on, and send it to a new home.
Back to the shop – what’s a typical day at Blue Bicycle like?
My hours are 12 to 6 because I’m usually out buying in the morning. I need that time ‘cause I’m a one-man show. Then I’m usually in the shop from 12-6, and a lot of times I’ll do a delivery or two at night. It’s truly all day, from the time I get up to the moment I get home. It’s an all-day affair. But if it’s something you love, it doesn’t feel like work. You just let it flow.
What’s your favorite part of owning and running the shop?
I’m not a real big people person – I’m kind of shy. So I enjoy the merchandising, definitely. And the hunt.
And the windows? I'm a big fan of your window displays.
I love the windows. That’s my favorite part of the shop – they’re really good display windows. I like to change them often, do seasonal windows, something new for the holidays. I like the merchandising, the display. That just comes naturally to me.
Where do you look for inspiration for the shop?
I get inspired by some of the other shops – FindFurnish, Timelines. Seeing what they’re finding, what they’re doing. They inspire me to get moving, get looking.
I also like to make road trips just to bring some fresh things into the area. Just a pickup and a trailer, that’s gotten me by so far.
You mentioned a few local shops. What’s your connection with other owners?
We’re loosely connected. We’ll see each other at estate sales or we’ll send people over to each other’s shops. I do that a lot with MidModMen, ‘cause they’re close by and they’ve got really nice stuff. It’s all a friendly game.
And Golden Age Design – they’ve got some really nice Danish modern. I’d love to know where he finds some of his stuff (laughs). I think the same thing about Brian from FindFurnish. It’d be fun to tag along some time.
What’s big right now? What do people come in looking for?
Danish modern is so popular right now. I think people just love that clean, uncluttered look in their house. I think a lot of us have grown up in homes that maybe had a few too many things. And to have just a nice, fresh look with those clean lines and those accent pieces that went so well.
A lot of these things were American made, or Danish made. There’s much better quality of construction, they’re built to last. If they’ve been around for 50 years, they’re probably going to last 50 more.
And, of course, I sell to the neighborhood. Most of our business is neighborhood, in St. Paul, or just across the river. We definitely get a crowd from the Blue Door Pub, while they’re waiting for a table. I’m very grateful for the Blue Door Pub. They always have a waiting line (laughs).
That’s what I like to keep in mind with this corner, too. We want to sell to the neighborhood. I don’t want the shop to be full of things that people just can’t afford. I’d rather keep things moving so I can keep on finding new.
And I like to find local stuff, like this drum (points to display below counter). I like to find St. Paul things when I can.
What’s next for Blue Bicycle? Any future plans to expand?
I’ve been selling some brand new furniture from Ink & Ivy out of California. It’s all mid century reproductions – takeoffs from some of the iconic looks. It blends perfectly with the audience. I like to stay diverse. Plus it’s fun to shop out of a catalog (laughs).
And of course there’s my side business, Fabulous Furniture Studio, where I lease out mid-century furniture. That’s been coming along real nicely, too. I’ve been tying in with a lot of the events people, and that just fits real well with this. If something isn’t performing well as a rental I’ll bring it in and sell it, or vice versa.
I ended up leasing some things for the movie Wilson that was just filmed here with Woody Harrelson. They came in and rented a few pieces that apparently will be in the movie – a really recognizable lamp in particular. Anything in this shop is for rent, too. The two businesses really blend well together.
Any advice for those new to the local vintage scene, or vintage in general?
I would recommend just visiting the shops and seeing what you like. You can definitely go online and search for any kind of style and any number of things will come up. There’s a lot of information online. But start with the shops. There's so much to see and learn, and you can do a lot of that right here with the local guys.
1818 Selby Avenue | Saint Paul, MN 55104
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday | 12:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Phone: (612) 390-7099 | Facebook