Old-Fashioned New Bohemian

The picture windows beneath the Jerabek’s New Bohemian awning gave a good feel for what was being sold inside. One window showcased the stock of vintage dresses—from satin gowns to housedresses bursting with floral prints. Metallic shoes, two or three cycles since they’ve been in fashion, lined the window’s ledge, tossed in with an oversized pink clutch and a milk glass lamp.

Inside, a spread of vintage tableware was laid out alongside unread copies of Rachel Ray’s cookbooks. (“Add to your set of Blue Heaven,” read one price tag.) Before long, the wafting smells of sugary baked goods and freshly brewed coffee led one’s nose to the deli case, to a beautiful display of brownies and lemon bars; a salad of greens, blue cheese, fresh pears, and raspberries; and vegetarian and meat pasties.

Mellissa Deyo, who owns Jerabek’s, hurried in from the back kitchen, wiping her hands on a pink apron speckled with daisies—she both uses and sells these confections of yesteryear. Her tall, strong frame and broad smile greeted me before she extended a hand. Large strawberry-blond curls rested close to her head, fifties-style, and given her youthful energy, it was surprising to learn that she is a grandmother. It’s as if she, as well as this place, are waffling in time between vintage and modern eras.

When asked about her favorite piece in the store, she joked, “Does it have to fit?” Scanning the room, her eyes skimmed past a paisley button-down shirt, embroidered handkerchiefs, and a red polyester suit before settling on an avocado dress and a matching, scallop-trimmed jacket. “I guess it reminds me of a simpler time. Or something,” she said.

While Jerabek’s celebrated its hundredth anniversary in June, it wasn’t until Deyo took over from her parents in 1994 that the retail bakery became something more. It began with one rack of clothes in the corner. “I never thought I’d expand beyond that,” said Deyo, but her patrons’ enthusiastic responses told her otherwise. She set up a “purple room” dedicated to vintage clothing after a florist vacated the space next door. “I pick up a lot of things from estate sales or the occasional thrift store,” she said. “But most places mark up their prices too much. I think there’s a limit to what people will spend. And because I’m cheap, I don’t charge a lot.”

Tucked away on an inconspicuous residential street on St. Paul’s west side, Jerabek’s is thoroughly enmeshed in its neighborhood and adheres to an old-fashioned business model. Old-timers gather on Wednesdays for senior discount day. During the summer, hipsters and young families congregate for a monthly garage sale and barbecue (this month, it’s on August 12). Another important tradition began in 1999: When the city was repairing the street, the lawn in front of the shop got torn up. Instead of new grass, Deyo planted a community garden. Neighbors donated plants and soon she had more than she knew what to do with. Before long, a Jerabek’s regular offered to weed the garden. “And pretty soon he moved in,” she said, explaining how she met her boyfriend. “We’ve been together seven years.”