Nomad Yard: D.C.’s Vintage Treasure Trove
One of the most magical experiences of January's mini get-away was wandering across the bridge at sunset and into the wonder of a shop that is Nomad Yard Collectiv. I was immediately greeted by the majestic Desiree Venn Frederic who stands at what felt about 6'0 in flats (was it her spirit? Was it her hat? Is she actually just a really tall person? I'm not sure). She smiled warmly and focused her attention back on the visitor speaking to her before my friend and I entered.
What can I say about this place that encapsulates it's magic? I will try my best, but the assemblage seems to fall short somehow. It's a space you must immerse yourself in, a sensory voyage. You cannot hear the electronic remixes of Nina Simone classics and Afrobeats filling the space. You cannot see the strategically placed selenite wand, propped against the doorframe (because I did't take a picture of it unfortunately). You cannot smell the mixture of aged textiles, used books and sage once burned. You must make the trip if you can, but I will do my best to share.
I was impressed by the masterful merchandising. The combination of organic and man-made. How each rack held a thought-out palette and mix of textures. By the door, you are brought into the space with a splash of jewel toned dresses. On the far left, there is a pink, black, gold and cream collection of aged lace, sequins, jacquard weaves and faux fur. The back wall supported a nook of 70's mustards, camels, periwinkles and eggplants. The left wall held cool hues of blue and brown. My wandering was filled with this realization: I was in a shop grounded in love and time. There was nothing superfluous. Everything had its most perfect home. Each detail placed with thoughtfulness and care.
This is not the place you come to on your routine weekend of thrifting. Nomad Yard is to be reserved for the special moments: searching for a birthday dress, an outfit for a dear friends wedding, finding that special something you need to organize your prized record collection with functionality and style. While you will find many items that are priced below $30, you should not intend to come here if you want cheap items in abundance. Leave that to the Salvation Army and Goodwill.
What really got me about this place, however, is the soul of it all. I was a bit afraid to talk to Desiree because I am a shy when I don't know how I will be received. People are not always very kind. I mentioned this to my friend and she said, "Come, let's go say hi," and we walked over together.
Maybe this should be a segue into a lesson I learned in this small moment, which is, speak for yourself. Tell your own stories. Make your own introductions. Because when people speak on your behalf, they aren't going to come to it with all you know, as you. Sometimes, however well they mean, no matter how big the love, they may not tell it how you tell it. They might not always get it right or capture the nuances. I am still trying to master this.
Desiree was darting around carrying handfuls of books, but stopped and looked us in our eyes as we approached. This chat extended a bit longer than expected and I found that not only is she warm, she is also fearless, poised, sharp, and quick witted. She graciously obliged when I asked if I could take a few photos of her.
I ended up staying an hour past close and in this time, I got a real sense of how Nomad Yard functions in the community. Not only is it a beautiful place to look at, it is a safe haven for people from all walks of life. A guy walked in to say hello and let Desiree know he had a bag of chips and some beer and that he was having a good night. She later disclosed that he is a regular who stopped by from the mens' shelter down the block. Another man sitting in a comfy chair by the register was offered a warm cup of tea. There is no sign of the dehumanizing fingerprint of capitalism in this place. Everyone has a name. Everyone has a lesson and a story to share. Desiree asks to hear it. She really wants to know.
Her mother brought by a few cases of snacks, in true loving mother fashion, and you can see where she gets it from. Seaweed and coconut water, Desiree's favorites, in abundance as she smiles and greets us hello. "I would hug you but I've been in the kitchen all day." I hug her anyway. I understand. She places two huge chunks of wood she found on the countertop. "I can merchandise with these," Desiree says with a smile.
I was so grateful when she asked, "Would you like some coconut water?" In no way is this the norm in regular retail stores, not even from the friendliest owners I've met. But there was a knowingness in her which acknowledged that it was late and that we might need something small to hold us over before beginning the journey home.
This is what I want to leave you with from this experience. Not only the beauty, but the small kindnesses, which mean the world. She turned to my friend who is a DC local and said, "You can come here and just Be. I tell this to everyone. You are welcome."
Please visit Nomad Yard and experience it for yourself.
411 New York Ave NE
Washington, DC, 20002