Contra Vintage Shop to Open in the Old City

It’s only been a few months since space at 125 South Central Street became vacant with the departure of Honeymouth leather goods, which operated there for over four years. Even as Georgia was announcing that her shop would move online-only for a while, plans were already underway for a new tenant for her space. Danny Perez, who has operated a similar shop in Atlanta for several years, will open a vintage shop offering a wide range of items. I met with Danny to learn more about his background and the shop.

As a high school student, Danny worked in a store at the mall. He remembers a single event that set him on a track toward his career. A girl walked into the store wearing a “white Starter Florida State hat.” He offered to buy it from her on the spot for $20 and she said, “Sure, I’ll go buy another for five dollars.” That really caught his attention and he soon learned the location of the store in Middlesboro, Kentucky and went there to investigate.

“I bought all the Raider’s hats for five dollars.” Noticing some vintage t-shirts also, he purchased those as well. He was soon selling the hats for $150 to $200 on ebay. He was working retail and going to high school. “I kept going back and learning. I started posting pictures and people messaged me wanting to buy.” A reseller from Chicago with a big ebay page offered him money and items from ebay if he would take him to the store. They made a deal and Danny learned more about shoes and other items from the man. They remain friends nearly fifteen years later.

He graduated in 2012 and soon started scoping out other sports stores that had been open for a long time, traveling to “Crossville, Cookeville, Nashville, up in Kentucky. I was buying so much, I started wholesaling to stores.” When he lost his job in 2015 due to a corporate change, he stopped wholesaling and only sold directly. He traveled to Atlanta, where the family has lots of relatives, participating in vintage shows. By then he sold shoes, hats, and t-shirts. “I was the only one selling sneakers and vintage clothing. I had stuff to go with the shoes.”

It was a cheap way to make quick money because he would “load the Honda Civic,” drive there and stay with family. His parents, who own Monterrey Mexican restaurant in Fountain City once lived in Atlanta and got their start in business there, so he has lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins there. “It’s our second home. I would hang out with my cousins and find something to do.” Eventually the owners of the market offered him a free booth to come down because what he was doing was so unique. The entire trip became free except for his gas.

He met Leonard Roberts at one of the shows and he was doing a similar business model. In 2015, the two joined forces with a third partner to open Versus ATL, selling the vintage clothing in the east Atlanta. They opened on the cheap — the store already had racks, they hand-made the tags and only had to buy hangers — and began operating a very successful business there selling sportswear and streetwear. He took merchandize down every week.

After three years they had money and they had high-end and celebrity buyers, so in 2018 they upgraded the finishes and remodeled to make clear it was not a thrift store, but a curated vintage store. From that experience he learned more about building out a space. By 2022 they had outgrown the 1,000 square foot store, with too much product unable to be viewed. They moved to downtown Atlanta and did it the right way from the beginning, soon with only two partners as the third parted ways.

They were included in a Netflix special, more celebrities shopped at and promoted their store. For Danny, it was personally difficult. He worked three days at a week at Monterrey and traveled to Atlanta for several days at a stretch. “It was getting overwhelming, being away from my family. I had house here and an a apartment in Atlanta.”

He’d long wanted to open a Knoxville location but the timing had never worked out. When he learned that Georgia would be moving out of 125 Central Street(the two are friends), he jumped at the opportunity to open his shop in the Old City, already being familiar with the space. Then the Atlanta store was broken into about the time he was offered the lease. They had closed in the wake of the break-in as they dealt with insurance and re-stocking, and he couldn’t see how to make all the pieces work, but he knew it was too perfect.

“It was such a blessing. When you are down, God will give you something to lift you up. I felt like that was my sign.” His wife encouraged him and he and his business partner decided to part ways with the partner taking the original store and Danny opening this location alone. “I want to build something for my family. I want to be closer to home, to my family. My twelve-year-old son would text me in Atlanta saying, ‘I miss you, Dad.’ It gets emotional. My wife was supportive, but it was hard.”

His former partner offered for him to use the name of their company here in Knoxville, but Danny wanted a fresh start with something all his own. He selected Contra as a name for the business because it is the Spanish word for “versus,” and so it acknowledges the previous part of his career while giving it a piece of his own identity. He later learned there is an iconic Nintendo game by that name and now has Contra memorabilia related to the game.

Inside the store, which should be open in the next couple of weeks, you’ll find a wide range of items. He’ll have vintage clothing, pop culture and skating wear and memorabilia, sports, vintage movie and music t-shirts and posters. He’ll also have Tennessee and area-related vintage pieces, like “old Cotton-Eyed Joes t-shirts from the nineties.” He’ll have some vintage UT items, of course, as well as a large section of vintage toys, most of which remains in original boxes. He also has a large selection of vintage art prints.

Regarding the clothing, where it all started, he’ll have a large selection of that, as well. “We’ll sell tops, bottoms, and hats for men and shoes, as well. Lifestyle shoes, some Jordon’s, runner’s comfort, what’s in right now in streetwear. I’ll have some higher-end Japanese designer streetwear.” His wife will stock the children’s vintage section as a part of her business, Mini-Me Vintage. They will also have a wide range of other memorabilia. Expect stock to rotate as he constantly brings in new items. He’ll also have branded merchandise for the store.

The whole family goes to yard sales and estate sales and his twelve-year-old son is already operating his own business selling video games. Operating his own e-bay page, Danny said, “That’s how he makes his money. We’ll go to yard sales, I’ll buy him what he wants . . .” and then his son pictures it, lists it, sells it, and ships it. “He loves it. My goal is to let him be in charge of shoes and streetwear and he can learn the vintage later.”

The store will operate on a buy-sell-trade basis, meaning they are happy to take a look at your vintage goods to see if it is for them. If so, they will pay or offer store credit, but only for that day and for what is currently in stock. He said if it’s not for them, they might be able to connect you to someone who would be.

Danny Perez Outside the Soon-To-Be Home for Contra, 125 South Central Street, Knoxville, May 2024

Connections are important to him and he wants to connect with his customers. He said he doesn’t even care if people come in to buy, he wants to get to know them and maybe they will tell someone else who does come in to purchase. “It’s about connecting with your customers first, before making money.” He will most likely be the face you see when you come in the door, so look for him behind the counter.

He already knows a lot of people in the Old City from Monterrey and he’s excited to bring his own business to the mix. He hopes to open by the end of the month and he’ll be open everyday except Mondays. Every other day will be Noon – 7:00 pm, though he said he may do some late-nights Thursdays through Saturdays when the crowds are large.