Mel’s Habitat: A Skip and A Shop Through History

By Cailey Barnhart

When customers enter Mel’s Habitat, a house-turned-vintage-haven in Youngstown, they are greeted with the sweet crackle of an old record while taking in all the sights.

From the kitchen stocked with quirky mugs to the vintage clothing section, customers can stumble upon items ranging from leather fringe chaps to the Louis Vuitton bag of their dreams on 906 Elm St.

The shop’s owner, Melanie Buonavolonta, who has a history in vintage retail, said Elm Street inspired her to open the shop this past summer. 

“I came across a vacant space that I can inhabit with an idea,” Buonavolonta said. “I saw a need for more retail in the Elm Street corridor. I like what’s going on up here, and I feel happy to be a part of it and excited in what will come about up here.”

Buonavolonta gives credit to a corduroy jacket from the ‘70s she thrifted in high school as the piece her love of thrifting stems from.

“Now, they’re remaking all of these things from the ‘70s and ‘90s, which is excellent, but there’s this whole fast-fashion conundrum where we’re making things so fast and cheaply that we’re not being responsible along the way,” she said. 

In Buonavolonta’s opinion, vintage is making a comeback.

“Nobody is wearing a specific modern Coach bag anymore, they’re all wanting ones from the ‘80s,” she said. “Young people are especially focused on the ‘90s style, which I can appreciate because I was young then and I remember it all.”

Buonavolonta began her vintage journey focusing on clothing, but the shop has grown since opening in May to include stocked kitchen and music areas. 

While many of what customers come across at Mel’s Habitat is vintage, the store also offers some work done by local artists. 

Photos by Cailey Barnhart

Shoppers will be able to buy paintings, handmade earrings from Fruit Collective and the latest releases from Sam Goodwill. 

Kate Perry of Fruit Collective said she loved being able to fill up the beautiful space and give people a chance to see and hold her pieces in person.

“Women supporting women is an extremely important concept to me, and I’m so grateful to have that through Mel’s Habitat,” she said. 

As the store grows, Buonavolonta plans on creating a section for hard-to-find camera film, as well as a “Socialist Fantasy Fridge” where shoppers can leave a donation in exchange for salads, fresh fruits or natural options.

Albert Chizmar, a senior political science major at Youngstown State University, played an acoustic set at Mel’s Habitat during last month’s Northside Jamboree and enjoyed the shop’s homely atmosphere. 

“The neighborhood has really come to life within the past few years, and I think it’s a perfect location for a store like that,” he said. “Since it is so close to the YSU campus, hopefully a lot of students will wander in once the semester starts.

The next event featuring Mel’s Habitat is the Northside Lineup, featuring other Elm Street establishments, such as Her Primitive Ways Red Road Apothecary and Culturehouse Coffee Company. 

Stores will be open late and the event features live music and food trucks. The Lineup takes place August 23rd.

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