Curious For Curios
The Owner of Urban Americana Brings Together Creative Minds and Thrifty Finds
WRITTEN BY: SHANTE SCHWARZ | PHOTOGRAPHED BY: TARA SIMON
Urban Americana prides itself on being a unique home furnishing store. It is nestled in the heart of the Zaferia Design District in Long Beach. The 16, 000 square foot midcentury warehouse is filled with an abundance of past loved treasures; a collection of items hand-selected by antique dealers and artisans and goods inspired by a vintage aesthetic. All items are juxtaposed with a showroom presentation; you are sure to find something in this trove to bestow with a new home. Conceptually, the owner, Chris Geer, wanted to meld ideas of like-minded small business owners who had the same passion and creativity parallel, while remaining true to their own and individually specializing in all different eras.
Along with an outstanding collection of vintage items, Urban Americana brings to you a nursery with a wide selection of drought tolerant plants available for purchase along with many additional design services available at your disposal and events happening regularly. This isn’t just a place to stop by. This gem holds a permanent spot on the map not only for shopping, but supreme creative inspiration.
Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
Chris Geer: I went to school at USC and graduated class of ’93. I’m happily married with two children—a boy and a girl, eight and ten years old. I coach my kid’s baseball team and try to never miss a game. We take pride in being a part of the community. I like to stay active and am an avid open water swimmer.
Q: I can tell that community is important to you. How does Urban Americana contribute to the community?
CG: We have involvement with all different Long Beach farmers markets in rotation for succulents, sponsorships with the local schools, along with the occasional set up at the Long Beach Antique Market. On the more glamorous end of things, we’ve done quite a few photo shoots in our space as well as renting out items for set design, most recently with Fox Studios.
Q: It seems that this place has a lot to offer beyond just what can be seen upon walking inside. What’s happening behind-the-scenes?
CG: Along with the nursery that has a variety of 150 different plants available for purchase, we have an in-house landscape architect, Michael McIver, who is available for those interested. We offer a few different services available at our design bar, and we are possibly offering at-home space styling or plant seminars in the future. Currently, we have quite a few trunk shows and pop-up events happening all the time. We would love for it to morph fully into design shows and gala events, with the possibility of renting out space for large parties too, but that is much further down the road. The possibilities are endless.
Q: It is apparent with the ideals behind the reclaimed and repurposing that you are pretty “green, ” or better put, conscious of our environment. Would you say that is true or is it just the look of those items you like?
CG: I feel I can speak for everyone here on this, being that we all agree on the subject. We are very conscious of the environment and therefore almost everything we sell at Urban Americana is being reused as these are mostly vintage and antique items. When I designed this space, I wanted to use as much natural light as possible, therefore, I’d say about 90 percent of the time we really aren’t using electricity beyond the bare minimum.
Q: Let’s rewind a little bit, before you were living the American dream with the wife, the kids…the owning your own successful business. Tell me about the path that brought you to this after college—the buildup to where you are now.
CG: After graduation, I decided I wanted to travel a little bit, so I moved to South America for six months. I wanted to study Spanish. I ended up working as a teacher, teaching English. After moving back, I went to work for my father’s printing company in 1996. He started very small in 1970 and eventually grew the company to 80 employees. I was there until it was sold in 2011. During that entire time, and before that, I collected vintage. Actually, for as long as I can remember, I either loved it or owned it.
Q: How was it that you knew you wanted to turn your passion into an everyday reality—a living and breathing, thriving business?
CG: Honestly, It probably started with my father. He was an entrepreneur that started from nothing. I really admired that. So I guess you could say I always wanted to own my own business and knew from a young age. I looked up to my dad and really wanted to follow in his footsteps.
Q: Beyond Urban Americana being a really cool place aesthetically, tell me a little bit about the concept behind it all.
CG: The concept isn’t technically a concept at all, it’s just what I believe. I love the idea of reclaimed and repurposed items. I don’t want people to think of this place as a stuffy, overpriced antique store. It’s not at all. It has something for everyone, from the average person looking for a single piece for their home to the high-end designer doing an entire home.
Q: What are the differences between antiques and vintage in your opinion?
CG: I feel antiques and vintage are two very different things and I’m happy to deal in both. Some younger people don’t understand the word “antique” and it scares them away from antique stores, which I’m trying to change with the way we have laid out Urban Americana. This is a spot I want on the map as a place to go when people are out running errands; somewhere to stop in and see all of the great new stuff we’ve gotten in since their last visit and a place for young couples just starting out, and older couples who’ve been together forever, looking for a new piece to add to their collection. I want it to be an enjoyable experience.
Q: So Chris, beyond the exquisite passions I can tell from the things you love, tell me a little about the way you got here… physically. The Urban Americana I am sitting in right now.
CG: Being that this was always the end plan, owning my own business, I decided to jump in with two feet. I had a plan though. I started searching for a building and hopefully timed the purchase with the “end” of the recession. This building was originally a sign company and looked nothing like this. I closed my retirement account, put it all into the business, and turned off the electricity and just demoed. It was about five months of demo and reconstruction before we were anywhere close to how it looks now.
Q: Given that you have things from basically every era, I can imagine it’s actually pretty difficult to put your finger on a specific era that would be considered a favorite. Is that true?
CG: Nope, not true at all. My absolute favorite is Early California, 1920-1930. It’s really rare and not easy to find. That is probably why I like it so much, beyond the element of design I find really appealing. The thrill of finding it is also very rewarding as well. I also have always loved Folk Art.
Q: Do you find that the average customer also has the same taste as you? The same favorite pieces? Favorite era? Favorite designs?
CG: Although I love all eras for different reasons (otherwise I wouldn’t be in this business), I find that 1950-1960 is typically an all-around crowd pleaser. Midcentury furniture is defiantly a best seller—Danish modern wood pieces, industrial furnishings, old factory stools and tables. Things from factories that would have gotten scrapped before, people are buying like crazy, either “as is” or refurbishing them in some way or another.
Q: What is your favorite part about being here, besides getting to do something every day that you love?
CG: I love the sale—somebody discovering something they really love and being able to take it home. Whether it’s a big piece of furniture, a lamp or a single record. No matter the size, it’s a find! It’s something that you can’t find 10 replicas of sitting on a rack right next to it; something to really get excited about. That’s what I love—seeing somebody with passion for a new treasure.
The wood wall that is surrounding the nursery, running along the perimeter of the property, is reclaimed wood from a barn in Nebraska. One of Chris’ dealers located the structure, it was then torn down, relocated and salvaged/repurposed.