Resale store owner sold to the stars
BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter modonnell@sUntimes.com October 28, 2012 7:34PM
Harold Mandel when he closed his famed North Side vintage store, Flashy Trash | Courtesy photo
Updated: November 30, 2012 6:18AM
Whether you were in the market for a Halloween wig, a 1940s Ice Capades costume, a Mad Men-era sofa, or a $5,000 turn-of-the-century gown, the odds were good that you could find them through Harold Mandel and his store, Flashy Trash.
Flashy Trash, at 3524 N. Halsted, wasn’t like a lot of the other vintage and resale stores. First, it was fragrant — in a good way.
And it was clean, organized and well-stocked with gorgeous and kitschy goodies, thanks to Mr. Mandel. He had the eye of a seasoned collector and the hunger of the competitive thrifter.
Set and costume designers sought his help as they created period looks for plays and movies, including “The Untouchables,” “Malcolm X,” and films by Woody Allen.
His clientele included at least three single-named celebrities: Cher, Madonna and Prince. Robert Plant dropped by. So did Julia Roberts.
He never stopped shopping. He could score a flea market find on vacation in Bangkok, or spot a trashcan treasure while strolling down a Chicago alley.
When he nabbed something good, he often called his sister, Sharon Klekot, to exult. One time, he telephoned at 2 in the morning from an overseas vacation to report: “ ‘You’re never gonna guess what I got. A corset.’ ”
Given the hour, she couldn’t muster much enthusiasm. “What’s so big about this?”
“It’s fabulous,” he replied.
Flashy Trash operated from roughly 1978 to 2004. Mr. Mandel and the store seemed to represent the zestful playfulness of Boys Town, back when gay liberation was gaining ground and the Grim Reaper of AIDS had yet to arrive.
“I looked at his shop as kind of the beacon,” said his friend, Lori Cannon. “He started when the party was still going on in the gay community, and the plague had not yet hit in Chicago like it had in New York and San Francisco, and people were carrying on.”
“Harold and his wonderful staff, many of whom are gone now, of Flashy Trash, provided a look; a tone; a temperament of party attitude and Halloween costumes, and larger-than-life images of incredible jewelry, vintage clothing, feather boas,” Cannon said.
Mr. Mandel, sometimes called “The Mayor of Halsted Street,” died Oct. 22 of complications from AIDS, at St. Joseph Hospital. He was 57.
A North Sider, he went to Kilmer Elementary and Mather High School. His mother, Fay, a Holocaust survivor from Poland, was a nail technician at a high-end salon, his sister said. His father, Donald, worked for Manpower International.
Mr. Mandel studied theater at Columbia College, according to his friend, Sheila Dunlap. He also attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, his sister said.
He was the kind of big brother who made miracles happen for his sister. When she was a little girl, she wanted a “Mrs. Beasley” doll, featured on the TV show, “Family Affair.” He found her a beautiful one. It still rests on a shelf at her home — and it still talks.
She worked for him during Northalsted Market Days, and at Halloween, when lines formed outside the store for costumes. Mr. Mandel even had hair stylists on hand to make sure the customers’ wigs looked perfect when they left.
He wasn’t above doing reconnaissance. “He used to send me to the other shops near him [to] spy,” his sister said. He’d ask her, “ ‘What’d they have? What’s their theme for the month?’ ”
“Cher came one time. They shut down the whole store for two hours so she could shop,” said his lifelong friend, Maria Mavraganes, of Stella’s Diner, 3042 N. Broadway. “Madonna got the same treatment. I remember Janet Jackson and Prince” shopped at Flashy Trash.
“I was in the store the day he got a call from a costumer for ‘Malcolm X,’ ’’ Cannon recalled. Mr. Mandel told her, “ ‘Well, I’ve got to get 600 men’s overcoats for an exterior shot.” It was the scene where Malcolm X, played by Denzel Washington, arrived at a police station with a small army of supporters. “Within a week, a week and a half, he made his contacts and got the overcoats. The costumer was impressed.”
In addition to stars and set designers, Flashy Trash drew club kids. In the late 1970s, “we’d definitely stop at Flashy Trash to see what we could add to our punk wardrobes,” said Ric Addy, owner of Shake, Rattle & Read bookstore, 4812 N. Broadway.
Mr. Mandel lived in Lake View and Andersonville for many years, in homes filled with beautiful things. His red velvet couch “looked like something out of the Versailles palace, eight feet long; covered with cushions. You could sit 12 people on it comfortably,” Mavraganes said. He had primitive paintings by Lee Godie, Chicago’s famed “bag lady” artist.
His Christmas Open House was famous. “It was a rather diverse, colorful group of artistes, strays and ne’er-do-wells,” Cannon said.
The buffet was stunning. To prepare the food, he cooked and baked and froze, and cooked and baked and froze again. “We all lived for that sweet table,” she said. “I saw arguments and shoving matches break out. I even saw a food fight, regarding the last slice of the marzipan log.”
In his final years, Mr. Mandel struggled with depression and substance abuse.
AIDS had cost him many friends. Business became tougher as Boystown drew more bars — places that often made lots of money and drove up rents, without the labor-intensive work of scouting out the racks at thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales.
He is also survived by his brother, Lenny, and his beloved Jack Russell terrier, Bailey.
A Chicago memorial is being planned.