From mid-century modern to gothic home decor, vintage vinyl and little curios, locals can find just about anything at Woolly Fern.
The Speedway Boulevard oddity shop — the parent company of Where + When Co. —is home to the macabre as well as refurbished furniture and secondhand home goods.
Co-owned and operated by former spouses Bridgett and Bryan Scofield, the business partners connect through their love of vintage.
Bridgett was raised in the “business” of yard and estate sales and flea markets, later becoming a vendor at antique malls.
“I was the one who would go in and make stores pretty with all the vignettes of displays,” Bridgett said.
She balanced her time between stores in Tucson and Phoenix, working for little return, before opening a store with a “community focus” that benefits vendors. Woolly Fern, which moved to its current location over a year ago, offers lower rental spaces and commission rates, keeping more of the sales in vendors’ pockets.
The space “rotates” its vendor booths, while the sellers bring in fresh goods, Bridgett said. Even moving a furniture piece on display from the front to the back of the store or bringing it to eye level can make an item feel new.
The vintage business is hard work and time consuming, and society’s short attention span is an added obstacle. But the Scofields’ keen eyes have helped them develop a curated collection with a lot of character.
“It starts with what you like, what draws you in and you start learning about other items,” Bryan said.
“I think that’s where it starts, as far as homing in on your skill for finding things of value,” Bridgett said.
The pair works meticulously and maintains a widespread network with niche online groups who do similar work. From specialists who focus on vintage tiki items, antiques, kitschy 1970s decor and more, thrifting is definitely not a thing of the past.
“Most people come in here because they’re thrifting, they want a good deal and they want quality on a budget,” said Bridgett, who noted one customer spent $1,000 on human bones.
The shop appeals to the masses with its broad range of goods, some of which are reminiscent of childhood.
Items like Corelle Vitrelle dishware sets from the 1970s “remind people of their youth,” Bryan said. “It’s really cool when people make those connections.”
From “crafty stuff” to coffins, World War II military memorabilia to Halloween decorations, the items span decades.
The Scofields notice a resurgence of mid-century modern and gothic furniture and home decor and even 1970s everything.
“It was an era of carefree, anything goes, good vibes, positive energy,” Bridgett said. “A lot of people are going right back to that because that’s what it encompasses — happy, good times.”
The store, which tries to “hit every demographic,” is constantly finding “that” customer base while prioritizing affordability.
“We purchase a lot of high-quality vintage and antique furniture that needs to be refinished in some way,” Bridgett said. “Sometimes we end up buying too much.”
With a background in construction, Bryan refinishes furniture, while others are placed on display as is. With stores like Home Depot color matching, refurbishing is affordable.
Furniture paint, finishes and waxes are in increased demand. Bridgett said some are updating existing furniture in their homes due to the increased cost-of-living expenses.
When + Where Co. opened five months before the pandemic hit, and the Scofields pivoted to accept and refinish custom pieces for clients to make their rent and business expenses.
Clients provided “the bones” while Bridgett and Bryan learned about the intended color scheme. The turnaround rate was a week or two.
Like a well-oiled machine, Bryan strips and sands a piece before handing it off to Bridgett, who determines a color scheme and completes the final finishing. In the ongoing battle of old versus new, the two have also noticed a difference in quality between modern-day and vintage furnishings.
“That’s why we always go back to vintage and antique because we know that the items were created to last,” Bridgett said. “We want to give people alternative options.”
“Even what’s considered a cheap dresser, it’s still together,” Bryan said. “Whereas a new one, if you set it or move it wrong, it’s going to fall apart.”
While the Scofields do recognize a demand for “locally made small business” items, they apply their own twist on homemade products using mostly salvaged materials to prevent waste.
“You know that you’re not increasing the carbon footprint of stuff being manufactured (nor) supporting sweatshops,” Bridgett said. “You’re also supporting a charity or local small business.”
“If you support your community, it goes back into what you do,” Bryan said. “You keep the money local.”
The staffs at Woolly Fern and When + Where Co. enjoy cohosting community events, bringing together introverted people with niche interests.
“There are all kinds of ideas and collaborations and new friendships that are sparked through these events,” Bridgett said.
The events include monthly art shows, flash tattoo specials, oddities markets and the upcoming Dirty T Punk Rock Flea Market on Saturday, Oct. 1, and Sunday, Oct. 2, at the Tucson Expo Center. The Halloween-themed event will include over 100 “spooky and vintage” vendors and tattoos.
“It comes down to fostering positive and healthy relationships with other businesses,” Bridgett said.