BERKELEY, Calif.— Mars Mercantile, one of the most popular vintage stores here is home to a multitude of retro clothing items. Managed by Ian Long, a 24-year-old Berkeley resident, the store and its image have gone through a journey of self-discovery.
Long spent his childhood in Shasta County, California, where his family ran a small organic farm.
“Starting the week I turned 3 years old, my family started going to Saturday morning farmers’ markets in Redding, and for about nine months of the year, every year, that was my childhood,” said Long.
Throughout his time living in a small town, Long developed many strong relationships within his community and said his trips to the market were vital in doing so.
Growing up in a small town that is “only a few hours away, but has almost nothing in common culturally, economically, politically with the Bay Area,” Long said, has been an important aspect of his background and upbringing. His decision to move to Berkeley came from a desire to attend college and to leave his small-town roots.
However, as he was a rather rebellious teenager, Long “had pretty terrible grades” throughout high school. He took time off following graduation, then decided to attend community college before transferring to University of California, Berkeley, where he was accepted in the Peace and Conflict Studies program.
While working as a resident adviser, Long stopped by Mars Mercantile to pick up clothes for a costume party. After walking into the retro clothing store, the then-manager of the store greeted him, and he quickly recognized her as a girl who used to live in Shasta County during his childhood.
He applied for jobs and eventually went back to Mars to ask his old friend if there were any positions available. Although they had just hired the last person they needed for their staff, she said she would put in a good word for him. Shortly after, he was hired.
Long said he worked hard to re-establish the store’s devoted following, and to make sure that the store’s prices were affordable for Berkeley’s many students. He advanced to opening the store, then to the assistant manager, and eventually became the manager.
His and other employees’ pride themselves on building customer relationships, and Long even recalled the time a loyal customer came in after just returning from a trip to China to show a few of the items he had purchased.
Long said he also has had the opportunity to rebuild the vintage store’s identity. Due to the various customers that continue to come back, Long and the owner have chosen to not just prioritize a certain demographic, but instead, the store has opened its arms to any and all who choose to explore the store’s endless racks of clothes.
As Long said, “The fact that we find the right mix of styles that cater to different people” is what sets Mars apart from competitors. Their store doesn’t just focus on one side of the “style spectrum” or a specific gender. In fact, Mars has dedicated each floor of their store to both men’s and women’s clothes.
The staff at Mars will personally help you to make sure that you find that perfect piece. Long described his staff as “people-y-people,”meaning his employees are more than willing to spend time acting as personal stylists of sorts to any customer who enters the store.
Long said, “Our attention to detail, and our attention to people, is very special.”
Long described his experience with a returning customer: “He remembered coming in here and having all these experiences… finding the really cool thing you know, when he was in high school that gave him that sense of identity.”