“YOU HAVE TO REALLY be in love with everything,” says Aimee Butterworth, co-owner of Cairo (507 E Mercer St, Capitol Hill, 206-453-4077; cairocollectionseattle.com). She’s not actually talking about you; she’s referring to the process, which she shares with Joel Leshefka, of prudently selecting vintage and otherwise used clothing, shoes, accessories, and housewares to sell at their pocket-size boutique on Capitol Hill.

It’s a make-your-weakness-your-strength kind of thing that elevates the current fervor for mixing luxury brands with rarefied yet familiar low-end leftovers from the ’70s, ’80s, and, yeah, even the ’90s and ’00s: Two facing walls with uncluttered lengths of hanging rod—one for him, one for her—mean every pair of drapey, psychedelic ikat-patterned pants and each wool-lined toggle coat was carefully chosen.

And each item gets its due, just like high-priced items inside lofty department stores where designers from Miuccia Prada to Marc Jacobs revive the colors and cuts of Cairo’s favorite eras. Unlike air-conditioned downtown emporiums, however, the shop’s side-street, slightly dusty milieu means you—and now we are talking about you—have to want it. Evidently, Seattle does. The Summit Avenue-Mercer Street mini-nabe is getting a second vintage dealer: by mid-month Indian Summer will be trading in dramatic silk kaftans, ethnic-inspired jewelry from the ’80s, and mid-century coffee tables.

Butterworth and Leshefka also offer silk-screening workshops, tap local artists to create custom designs for their T-shirt line, and bring experimental bands around back after hours. Cairo isn’t just a storefront, it’s a lifestyle. But the most surprising thing about the space isn’t really surprising at all: It’s not just hipsters who happen by. Neighborhood boomers reminisce over the smattering of avocado-green housewares and the asymmetrical, mystical-feeling local jewelry by Meghann Sommer—and, occasionally, the sweatshirts silk-screened with beach scenes. And why not, they’re the ones who wore them the first time around.

This article appeared in the September 2010 issue of Seattle Met Magazine.

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