Flower Child – Cleveland, Ohio

Joe Valenti walks around Flower Child turning on lights and talking about his upcoming Christmas plans for the store. 5,000 ornaments will hang from the ceiling, and acrylic Christmas trees and papier mache elves will decorate the floor. Overwhelming? A bit. For Valenti, it’s just another day.

“Every day I get up and learn something new in this job,” Valenti said. “There’s something you’ve been looking at for 10 years and suddenly, it’s hot again.”

Flower Child opened in Cleveland 12 years ago. (Valenti has a second store in Columbus, Ohio.) The store’s name is an homage to his hometown of San Francisco and the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood where he was born. Like the city it was named after, Flower Child is the epitome of funky and hip. Every nook is filled with vintage homeware, clothes and anything you can imagine, from old issues of Playboy to hatboxes from New York. As Valenti said, Flower Child can, “put you in clothing, house you out, and party you out.”

The store is a co-op, home to eight vintage dealers who share floorspace and work days. Each dealer has a room downstairs to showcase his or her finds. Upstairs is a mixture of goods from all the dealers, from religious figurines to a rainbow collection of Izod cardigans. Just when you think you’ve seen everything there is, you come to another twist or turn, another nook or cranny filled with knick-knacks and brick-a-brack.

Valenti’s always had a knack for finding unusual pieces. This is the man who bought an original Peter Max for $2.99 at Goodwill. Valenti said the painting is now worth $11,000. He began collecting vintage furniture in college. (“Friends said if it was ugly I owned it.”) However, it took him a while to turn his love for vintage into a career. In college he studied education, but he then started a career in advertising and spent 15 years at a talent agency. Only after he started running a booth in an antique mall did he began to think about turning his hobby into a career.

Today Flower Child isn’t just a favorite among the locals. People from Ralph Lauren, Anthropologie, and Betsy Johnson have visited the store looking for items and inspiration for next season’s clothes. Flower Child has supplied items for movies like “American Splendor,” “The Oh in Ohio,” and “Welcome to Collinwood.” The curator of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shops there for exhibits, and punk rockers The B-52s have also stopped by.

“I didn’t expect it to be what it is,” Valenti said. “I’m truly grateful.”

He turns off the lights in the store and locks the door. He has to be in Columbus soon to finish an interior decorating job. The client called this morning frantic. Something had fallen off one of the chairs. Only Joe could fix it.

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