Benny Tralongo
Benny Tralongo signed a lease on a Milwaukee storefront for his vintage resale business, SayWerd, just as the coronavirus pandemic hit. It ended up being one of the best moves he could have made, as the vintage market exploded during the pandemic as people looked for comfort in nostalgia. Tralongo is now planning on moving to a bigger storefront. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Just as Benny Tralongo signed a lease on a storefront, the world ground to a halt. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for his clothing and collectibles business.

On March 2, 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning to become a major concern in the US, Benny Tralongo signed a lease on a storefront on Milwaukee’s East Side.

On that day, Wisconsin had just one confirmed case of COVID-19. But by the time Tralongo got the keys to the storefront on April 1, the state had seen 1,700 cases and Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order had been in effect for a week.

Faced with a situation flush with uncertainty, Tralongo cautiously opened his store, SayWerd—which sells both original and vintage clothing and collectibles—for private appointments in May 2020. He had a grand opening a little over a month later in June.

“I had so many people go, ‘You were nuts for opening a business now! You’re crazy!’” Tralongo said on a recent Friday at his shop. “And I’m like, 100%. One hundred percent, if someone told me that they were gonna do it, I’d be like, ‘Are you good?’ But something inside me, I was like, this is right.”

Business has been better than Tralongo could have hoped. SayWerd has garnered a dedicated clientele, he said, with people coming to browse the clothing racks and collectible shelves or trade in new items on a regular basis. 

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And as the customer base has expanded, so have the store’s offerings, with new toys, trading cards, video games, and more now packed into every square inch of usable space, with plenty of stock in storage.

SayWerd’s success is reflective of other vintage resale stores throughout the country during the past year. The markets for vintage clothing and collectibles like trading cards, video games, and toys exploded as people embraced nostalgia and new hobbies during a dark time of sickness and death. 

In that regard, the pandemic helped Tralongo. “Which is weird to say,” he was quick to add. “Because you don’t want to be inconsiderate of people who have faced hardships during this time, but it was truly beneficial for me business-wise.”

Tralongo has already outgrown his small storefront and will likely move into a bigger space once his current lease expires. It’s a drastic turnaround from how things could have turned out. Before Tralongo opened the storefront, he made most of his sales at concerts, festivals, and other events—opportunities that evaporated with the pandemic’s arrival.

“To open a store and have a spot for people to come to on a daily basis saved me,” Tralongo said. “Oh my God, it saved me, and I don’t regret it at all.”