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Vintage Store Offers the 'Ultimate in Window Shopping'

PARK SLOPE — A Park Slope vintage store is taking window shopping to a new level.

Customers at Robert Henry Vintage don't take their purchases to a counter to be rung up by a cashier. Instead they choose what they want from the store's window display, then use their smart phones to make the buy without ever setting foot inside the store.

In fact, at Robert Henry Vintage, there is no store in the traditional sense. The entire retail space is a four-foot by 13-foot window display on the ground floor of a South Slope residential building at 683 Sixth Ave. between 19th and 20th streets.

"We call it the ultimate in window shopping,'" said co-owner Robert Walden, who lives near the Sixth Avenue window display with his partner Henry Chung. "You can come by and look at the stuff and buy stuff without having to interact with anybody."

When shoppers spot something they want to buy, they use their smart phone to scan a QR code assigned to that item that's posted in the corner of the window display. QR codes are black and white designs that smart phones scan using apps that can be downloaded for free.

Once the customer scans the QR code, their phone automatically takes them to a secure URL where they complete the purchase with a credit card and arrange for delivery or pick-up. Customers who don't have smart phones can call or email if they want to buy something in the window. All sales are final, but if a customer needs to return a purchase that's damaged, they can get in touch with Walden and Chung using contact information provided on their digital receipt.

Walden and Chung "open" the store by pulling up a window shade every morning around 10 a.m. or so. They keep the window on view until about 10 p.m., long enough to get foot traffic from diners headed to nearby restaurants Lot 2 and Giuseppina's Pizza.

For Walden and Chung, selling merchandise out of a display window cuts down on the costs and hassles of running an actual store — there are no employees to pay and manage, and they don't have to open and close on a strict timeline.

"One of the main reasons to do it was we didn't have to staff it," Walden said. "We wanted a way to have the space without having to be there."

The couple has been collecting vintage housewares since about 2006. They opened a full-scale store at the 683 Sixth Ave. space in 2008, selling a mix of vintage pieces and contemporary art. This year they moved the art to a gallery space, Robert Henry Contemporary, at 56 Bogart St. in Bushwick. They converted the Sixth Avenue store into a storage space and moved a curated selection of their vintage items into the window display.

Chung, who also runs a web development company, came up with the QR code idea. It launched in June and so far customers have been giving the system positive reviews, Walden said.

This week the window was stocked with an array of glassware and other 1960's-era home decor pieces that looked like they belonged in Don Draper's stylish apartment on "Mad Men." Robert Henry Vintage also sells dishes, cocktail shakers, bar sets, table linens and other items that generally date back to the 1960s or 70s.

Walden and Chung, who are both artists, carefully select the pieces from flea markets and thrift stores in the tri-state area. They have two rules for buying a piece: it must be something they both agree is worth buying, and it must be in pristine condition.

"You can find what we have at thrift stores, but it won't be in as good condition as our inventory," Walden said. "We really strive to get stuff in as near perfect condition as we can."

Walden and Chung look for pieces with clean, elegant lines and good color, Walden siad. "We like whimsy, but we're not into kitsch," Walden said. "You won't find dogs playing poker."