A Little Luck and a Lot of Style
photo by Chris Thelen
So, who’s Ooollee?”
It’s a question Caren Dorn Bricker gets almost every day as the owner of Vintage Ooollee, a popular downtown Augusta boutique specializing in vintage apparel and costumes. Ooollee, in fact, is Ooollee—it’s a nickname she’s had her whole life, taken from an old song her father used to sing to her.
That her store is called Vintage Ooollee is right on. Like her namesake shop, Ooollee is a collector of old things from way back—she remembers starting a doll collection when she was just 6. And vintage has certainly become her trademark style.
Local Girl Does Good
Ooollee grew up on Milledge Road in Augusta, a self-proclaimed “daddy’s girl,” born some 10 years after her other siblings. She was a little fashionista even then, featured as a contest winner in an Augusta Chronicle photo wearing a wool and leather dress topped off with a jaunty beret. At Aquinas High School, she was the first-ever team mascot, proudly donning the leprechaun costume her mother stitched for her.
The dining room is home to an eclectic mix of antiques, family treasures and new finds.
But her artistic side has always been balanced by a good head for numbers—and, Ooollee admits, a bit of a type A personality. After majoring in art at LaGrange College, she put her degree and her love of numbers to work as a carpet designer with the Milliken Design Center in LaGrange. (She’s also worked in the IT department at Georgia Health Sciences University.) “It’s that left brain, right brain thing,” says Ooollee with a laugh. “I love math because it’s perfect.”
But after 12 years away from Augusta, she decided to come home to be with family. Ooollee moved into a rental cottage owned by her mother that was in desperate need of rehab, doing all the work herself and turning it into a showplace.
Ooollee has collected dolls since she was a child (left), while more vintage pieces adorn an old-fashioned piano.
“At that point in my life, I felt that I didn’t need a man for anything,” says Ooollee, who had been married once before. But she adds, “I’m very lucky…everything comes to me when I need it, it always has.” And that’s when she met John. “We have a great team between the two of us,” says Ooollee with a smile.
The two were married in 1998 during a weekend that also saw a family funeral, the threat of a hurricane and no electricity. Then came the most daunting task of all—moving Ooollee’s heavy furniture and enviable collection of vintage clothing into John’s apartment.
Vintage Ooollee Is Born
John lived in the upstairs apartment of the old Avrett Hardware building on Broad Street. Built in 1916, John had been rehabbing the space at the same time Ooollee had been working on her rental home. A bachelor pad to the max, it was just waiting for someone to punch it up.
Ooollee’s design philosophy is eclectic—“I’ll put something worth five cents next to something valuable”—and she also believes in the adage, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” “So many people collect things and keep them in boxes and drawers and closets,” she says. “Why not have it out to enjoy?”
The one room that wasn’t touched was the guest room—jammed full of racks of vintage clothes. But that’s where her luck came into play again. Ooollee had always dreamed of opening an actual vintage store. The downstairs renter had just left and a friend in Savannah called with an offer to sell Ooollee the entire contents of her shop. The only catch? All the merchandise needed to be moved out in three weeks. “It was a like a snowball down a hill,” says Ooollee.
The couple worked hard, painting over purple and yellow to create a clean white palette for the vintage items to pop against. Even after the store opened, they had to redo the floors, closing for a week and pushing everything to one side, finishing that, then moving everything again to finish the rest.
Now, four years later, the shop has become a destination for die-hard and wannabe collectors, party-goers and theater managers looking for the just-right costume and anyone searching for a perfectly beautiful and unique piece. Ooollee doesn’t know exactly how many items she has in her collection, on racks upon racks spread over three floors, but a rough estimate totals well over 100,000.
Memories Old and New
So far as vintage goes, the ’70s are Ooollee’s era. “Those were great years for me,” says Ooollee, who graduated high school in 1976. Today she is wearing big earrings along with a dress alive with earth tones—oranges, browns and yellows—all setting off her signature, perfectly coiffed flaming red hair. It’s a look she takes up a notch or two during the theatrical and whimsical fashion shows she co-partners with downtown salon Modish.
The breakfast nook is set with vintage billiard motif dinnerware, complementing the overall color scheme.
A wall was knocked out to create a spacious game room, a study in eclectic decor—its ’50s accents juxtaposed with the building’s original mantels and woodwork.
Still, what gets Ooollee the most excited about her vintage finds are the stories and people behind them. “When I go and buy from someone,” she says, “I’ll ask her about the pieces—and I’ll share that story with the person who buys it.”
In her home above the shop, some of her most cherished pieces have great family stories. A giant pair of painted playing cards hangs on one side of the game room/office. “A friend of mine called, her husband had died and she wanted to hold a yard sale. So I climbed up into her attic and I saw these, and I said, ‘My God, Uncle OT did those!” says Ooollee. The cards had been a gift from her uncle, a sign painter, to a friend and they had been passed on and on. “I just stumbled across them and got them back.”
Above the mantel in the bedroom hangs another treasured piece, a gift from John on her 50th birthday. It’s a series of sketches of Ooollee, based on actual photographs, by late artist and close friend Will Fahnoe. “And the funny thing is, I had on something vintage in every photograph,” she says.
Above: John, Caren and Vincent relax with a glass of iced tea on their balcony overlooking Broad Street.
From a quilt made from her huge collection of T-shirts to labeled jars of beach sand from all over the world on display in her kitchen, everywhere you look in Ooollee’s home, you’ll find something unusual and beautiful. It’s a result of her collected approach—where every good thing will fall into place at the right time and for the right purpose. And maybe some of that luck that she’s famous for. “Every single piece is sitting there waiting for one person to come and buy it,” she says. It’s a good philosophy both for her business, as well as her life.