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Pilsen Shop 'Knee Deep' in Vintage for Five Years

By Chloe Riley | March 8, 2013 12:11pm

PILSEN — Knee Deep vintage shop is celebrating its fifth anniversary in Pilsen, and co-owner Carlos Lourenco credits the loyalty of the Pilsen 'hood with his success.

Six years ago, Lourenco was making the drive between his place in Brighton Park and Clothes Optional, a Lakeview Vintage shop where Lourenco worked at the time.

It was on this drive that Lourenco began to notice the conspicuous lack of South Side vintage shops.

Lourenco zeroed in on Pilsen and the rest is history.

“We thought supply and demand was a little saturated in Wicker Park and up by Belmont Street, and so it just made sense. Cheap rent and the need to have that in this neighborhood,” he said.

Luckily, at the time, Lourenco’s partner Trent Marinelli was also a huge vintage fan. The two have been together over eight years and co-own Knee Deep at 1425 W, 18th St.

Originally from Northern California, Lourenco, 35, has been a self-described vintage fiend all his life. Garage sales, thrift shops, Goodwill: Lourenco’s worked them all. For a hot moment in his early 20s, he opened a vintage store in Seattle called Double Trouble.

“I was a little too young and crazy to be opening a business back then. It was fun but it was definitely where I learned the ropes,” he said.

Giving a customer the history of a vintage piece and connecting them to it is part of the real success of the biz, Lourenco said.

“That’s why we really haven’t done much online. Because we just like to deal with the public one-on-one,” he said.

Lourenco describes Knee Deep as “color-coordinated, handpicked more wearable vintage.” 

“We have everything from the 90s to the 20s. I’d love to focus on the 40s and 50s. It’s harder to find, but it’s one of my favorite eras to shop and to get people excited about,” he said.

He’s not kidding about the color-coordinated. The racks are laid out by color and make you feel like you’ve just time-warped into a rainbow. Racks of shoes line the back wall and hipster t-shirts abound.

“Trent is definitely the t-shirt connoisseur,” Lourenco said. “He loves to predict colors and patterns and styles and he’s always trying to be on the forefront of that.”

Lourenco said the cheap rent and friendly neighborhood make Pilsen an ideal haven for a burgeoning vintage scene.

Today Pilsen is brimming with vintage places like Pilsen Vintage and Thrift, Modern Cooperative, Round Two Resale and Comet Vintage. The shops have even formed an online collaboration called "Vintage on 18th."

But five years ago, Knee Deep was flying solo. 

Lourenco said it’s the loyalty of neighborhood Pilsen-ites and others that have kept Knee Deep alive and kicking, Lourenco said.

“If we didn’t have that customer base, then we really wouldn’t have what we have today, so it’s a big thank you to them,” he said.

For 2nd Fridays, Knee Deep will be serving cake and offering 50 percent off jackets and winter wear, in addition to 25 percent off everything in the shop from 6 p.m. to midnight. And if you play your cards right, Lourenco might even let you in on the “secret sale items.”