Nestled behind a clothing rack full of vintage suits, Melissa Flynn tearfully fingered a vest as she added it to a display for the sale of her vintage collection to benefit the Woman’s Club of Spokane.
The Mother’s Day Vintage Fashion Exhibit and Sale opens Friday night with a sneak peek at the club’s historic fashion exhibit and vintage clothing sale from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets are $20, and beer and wine will be served.
The sale will continue on what’s expected to be a rainy Saturday and Sunday, with tea and light refreshments from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets those days are $15.
Flynn, who recently moved to Spokane with her wife, Ability “Abil” Bradshaw, was a costumer in Seattle for decades.
The couple met 31 years ago working on a play, where Bradshaw was doing costumes.
Flynn was new on the scene and wanted to help with the costumes. When Bradshaw asked why she should be a member of the team, Flynn said, “I know every thrift store between Everett and Tacoma and I have a Volkswagen bus,” Bradshaw recalled with a chuckle.
They have been a couple ever since.
Together, they ran a variety of businesses, mainly in the hospitality industry, including renting rooms in their home on Airbnb.
Flynn also styled and costumed indie films, burlesque artists and circus folks out of her studio in her backyard, she said.
“Anybody that was looking for an authentic era, they knew to come to me,” Flynn said. “I was kind of the secret weapon because I didn’t have a store, I had a place where I collaborated.”
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic that decimated both the hospitality and entertainment industries.
The couple had already bought a historic home in Spokane to retire in, and decided to sell their Seattle home and move to the east side of the state immediately.
The home just happened to be two blocks from the Woman’s Club, which at the time was wading through a controversy over the unwanted use of the facility as a homeless shelter.
After the building was vacated, a new board was installed at the Woman’s Club, but the more than 100-year-old social group was in trouble with little revenue from renting the historic building for events due to the pandemic.
Suzy Kuhner, who joined the club last year and is now a board member, spearheaded efforts to save the club and prevent the sale of the building.
She created a GoFundMe and helped plan the fundraiser in hopes of raising $50,000 to pay off the building’s mortgage and move the club forward debt free. The club, which has seen a significant drop in membership, hopes to avoid losing the building, in part through the vintage sale fundraiser.
Kuhner remembers waiting outside while her grandfather slipped into his Chicago Men’s Club for a cigar and a whiskey. As an adult, she always wanted that kind of classy escape, so when she spotted the Woman’s Club shortly after moving to Spokane, she thought it could be the perfect fit.
While there’s no cigars, the club has been a place to find community, Kuhner said.
There, she met Susan Bresnahan, a longtime board member at the club, who hopes to see the organization return to its glory days as a space frequently home to dance and workout classes, clubs and community events.
The Woman’s Club building has seen some significant improvements since those days with a new commercial kitchen, handicap accessible bathroom and air-conditioning, all paid for through a grant, Bresnahan said.
Hosting an event at the historic club is fairly affordable at about $100 per hour to rent the ballroom, complete with an especially springy floor for dancing. The club’s backroom, bathed in afternoon light, is available for even less.
The proceeds from renting the building go directly to the club, and once they’re back on their feet, will help them donate use of the space to other community organizations to host their events, Bresnahan and Kuhner hope.
The best way to maintain the building, Bresnahan said, is to share it.
Flynn saw posts on NextDoor about the Woman’s Club struggles and felt compelled to help, and she also had boxes full of vintages clothes she was ready to part with.
“‘I have this enormous vintage collection. I need to do something with it. I can help you,’ ” Flynn said she told the board member who answered her cold call. “This would be fun. This will make a lot of money, I think, and I will feel so good about helping with this cause.”
So the historic fashion show the club used to host was resurrected , but this time with a twist. Upstairs in the ballroom, attendees can view an exhibit of historic garments from the 1880s through the 1970s pulled from the club’s vintage collection.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is a display of little black dresses from each decade of the last century. After grabbing a refreshment, attendees descend to the basement, where Flynn’s vintage clothes stretch from wall to wall. Flynn will accept cash, Venmo and credit cards.
The clothing ranges from men’s suits to evening gowns to belts, blouses and handbags, priced from $2 to $140.
While it’s hard for Flynn to part with her collection, she’s excited to watch the clothes gain a new life.
“I love all of these things,” she said with tears in her eyes. “But I love them on people.”