“It’s this constant struggle—but that’s my favorite part of it too, the hunt.”
It is a cold Monday afternoon in Somerville, but Andrew Wiley is sending enough positive vibes through the phone to warm up the whole office. We’ve caught the proprietor of High Energy Vintage in the final stages of preparing his new storefront. Formerly based in Teele Square, Wiley has migrated a few miles across town to Union Square (429 Somerville Ave.), bringing his vintage video games, records and clothes with him.
What started out “kind of accidentally” as a booth at SoWa’s Vintage Market has grown and evolved into a vital, permanent fixture in Greater Boston’s secondhand scene. With the move across town, High Energy is upgrading from word-of-mouth phenom on the outer edge of a main shopping district* to a spot in—we’ll just go right ahead and say it—New England’s hippest ‘hood.
“I’m really excited about this store,” Wiley says. “The last store I sort of threw together in maybe three weeks, between the time I signed the lease and moved in and when I opened up. I always wanted it to look more professional, and I’m really excited that the new store is going to look the way I want it to … When I was in Teele Square, the neighborhood was super supportive. There’s no way I could have stayed in business [without the community].”
And not just around the storefront. Wiley says the whole of Camberville has rallied behind him. There aren’t a ton of vintage stores around, and even fewer hawk the particular items that have folks schlepping to High Energy. “When it comes to vintage video games, I’ve had people come from Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire … it’s kind of flattering.”
Wiley has developed a reputation among vintage collectors of all stripes by amassing a collection that’s as vibrant and diverse as the community in which he’s based. But one of the great challenges—one of the challenges for any vintage retailer—is not only acquiring stock but acquiring stock that will actually sell. Just because something’s old doesn’t necessarily mean that contemporary consumers are going to be interested. So, where does one find the hippest accoutrements for New England’s coolest community?
“Everywhere. People ask me this all the time: ‘Where do you get your stuff?’ It’s everywhere,” Wiley says. “I’m literally always on the hunt. I can be at a party and somebody will be like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got this bladdyblah,’ and it ends up they’ve been hoarding, I don’t know, Turkish records for the last ten years or hoarding 1980s floral dresses. People hoard weird things.”
And while you might think that a proven picker like Wiley could make a killing just by concentrating on the ravenous collectors lurking in the dark and cheetoh-smelling corners of the Internet, he likes to keep his sales local. “The operation is just me, I don’t have a lot of time” to hawk things online, though he says he doesn’t rule it out entirely. Last winter, for instance, it saved his bottom line while we were all snowed in.
“Why do people want old video games that they can’t play to put up on their shelves? I don’t know, whatever,” says Wiley. “But I really dodged a bullet on lost in-store sales during that two months of Snow Apocalypse.”
It’s this sort of business savvy that has allowed High Energy to grow from a booth in the South End to a successful store on the verge of expanding into a newer, pricier market. Rents around here aren’t cheap, and it takes more than a little cunning to turn the flotsam and jetsam of modern culture into a money-making proposition.
But more than cunning, it’s Wiley’s effervescent personality and, well, high energy that keep customers coming in. Don’t expect the brooding-record-store-dude or the cranky-comic-monger that we generally associate with the more, um, obsessive ends of collector culture when you enter High Energy. He may be peddling some rare objects, but he’s not running a museum. He’s happy to meet customers that like the same things he likes. And as he talks about preparing his new location, you can hear the joy, the unadulterated excitement in his voice.
“I’m looking forward to having a bigger store, a nicer store,” he says. “I’m interested in meeting all the new people that are going to come.”
*We love you, Teele Square, don’t ever change. No, seriously, don’t change. Please. We enjoy how chill you are.