MEET YOUR MERCHANT: Artist Mikey Latronica brings one-of-a-kind vintage fashion to downtown Grass Valley
Address: 126 W. Main St., Grass Valley
Hours: 12 to 7 p.m. every day
Facebook: Sunchild’s Parlour
Ask Michael “Mikey” Latronica to describe his Grass Valley vintage clothing boutique, Sunchild’s Parlour, and he’s likely to hand you a piece of paper entitled, “Fashion Propaganda” by his former employee Kelly Hagen:
“Fashion ain’t vain when you think of it as ritual adornment. It’s fun, it’s self expression, and it adds flavor to our lives. Consider it a public contribution to the arts … nay … the world! Are you mod, grunge or goth? Are you glam on Tuesdays and rock on Wednesdays? Are you a witch, a wizard, a weirdo, a whiz? Try it all!”
Latronica’s carefully curated collection of where-in-the-world-did-you-find-this pieces are a reflection of his extensive history as an artist and creative collaborator. A native of Philadelphia, he moved as a young man to San Francisco to attend art school. But he suffered the fate of many art students — it turned out to be too expensive.
But it’s possible that his artistic endeavors were never meant to remain inside the confines of an institution. Within a year he had created an artists’ collective, which eventually evolved into a 22,000-square-foot space, housing more than 70 artists. But he didn’t stop there — he went on to create and run The Center SF, a San Francisco tea house and event space for the next eight years.
In 2016, with the help of his creative and visionary collaborator Kelly Hagen, Latronica opened a vintage clothing shop in the heart of Haight-Ashbury, which occupied the retail storefront of the historic Red Victorian Hotel. He named the store “Sunchild’s Parlour,” after the late Sami Sunchild, who originally opened the “Red Vic” as a bed and breakfast with a Summer of Love vibe more than 40 years ago.
DIG ON YOURSELF
But after more than two decades of busy city life, Latronica was feeling the pull of country living. While visiting friends in Nevada County, he fell in love with the Yuba, the landscape, the slower pace and the community. In 2018, he decided to open a sister store, also named Sunchild’s Parlour, in Grass Valley.
It shared the same motto — “Dig on yourself and the world digs with you” — and brought a much-needed urban infusion to Grass Valley.
“Wear it when ya feel like it — never apologize for being overdressed,” wrote Hagen in her Fashion Propaganda manifesto. “You’re coveting that plaid wool ‘60s blazer in the window; you own that semi-formal velvet gem collecting dust in the closet. ‘When am I ever gonna wear this?’ Do you want to wear it? Freakin’ wear it! What are you waiting for? Wear sequins to a Sunday picnic, wear grandpa’s ‘70s tie to the show in your friend’s basement. Make the occasion. Be the occasion, man.”
Literally weeks after Latronica opened his Grass Valley store, he was informed that his lease at the San Francisco boutique would not be renewed. Suddenly, he had twice the inventory available to the Grass Valley store and he became a more-or-less full-time resident of Nevada County. He welcomed the change, and was grateful for the help of his longtime friend and manager, Nina Topinko, and two other employees, or “sun children,” Sara Melby and Caity Koppes.
Inside the West Main Street store are hand-selected vintage clothing pieces, carefully gleaned from flea markets, estate sales, yard sales and thrift stores. Most range from the 1940s to the 90s. A limited array of housewares are also for sale, most of which were made in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
“I also have some people who shop for me and help select quality things they know I like, but I love the thrill of the hunt,” said Latronica. “A lot of time and effort goes into the selecting and curating. The vibe I want is expressive — I want people to look around with their mouth open. Everything should come together as bright, colorful fun. I want to make the world a happier place through adornment.”
NOT A COSTUME STORE
It’s not a costume store, he added, but there are definitely pieces that can be used for costumes. Many customers are shopping for that signature piece before heading to a special event. Recently, a large percentage of customers were bound for Burning Man, he said. Occasionally Latronica will post a photo on social media featuring a customer who has found that perfect piece, and deem them, “sun child of the day.”
“Remember when in the future we were all gonna live in a virtual reality and you could pick a freaky haircut, metallic jumpsuit, moon boots and create your identity from scratch?” wrote Hagen. “The future is now, y’all. Build yourself from the ground up. Be the bionic fashion misfit of your dreamz!”
Even those who are less adventurous in the fashion realm are encouraged to step inside Sunchild’s Parlour to admire the fine woodwork on the walls by Jacqui Hendricks of Jacqui Hendricks Design and Bill Stark. The store was once a bank, and Stark has created an optical illusion inside the historic building when one looks from the entrance back into the fitting room, which used to be a vault. Hendricks is the creator of the Sunchild’s Parlour sign as well as the intricate wall design, which serves as a eye-popping backdrop to the always-interesting window displays.
While Latronica appears perfectly content designing displays, chatting with customers and picking over his newest “finds” at his Grass Valley store, one gets a sense that his creative influence in Nevada County has only just begun. His newest venture is an upcoming “second Saturday” monthly event from 6 to 9 p.m. at the store, which will feature live music or a DJ and include free libations, and a variety of activities, such as tarot readings.
“The most rewarding part about owning a store is the leap into the community and the opportunity to get a genuine sense of the town or place in which I live — I meet so many people daily, whether it’s fellow merchants, local residents or travelers,” said Latronica. “But the most rewarding part about specifically owning Sunchild’s and selling vintage clothing is that I get to meet other vintage-loving folks, funky freaks and creatives, whom I like to be surrounded by. It makes life way more interesting.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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