Hidden gem shines in Upland

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A mural depicts a badle eagle with a mask held in its beak on the south side of The Vintage Vault in Upland. Carlos Velastegui, the shop’s owner, hoped tat the mural would symbolize the perserverance of the American people through the COVID-19 pandemic, and a look to brighter days ahead. (Photo courtesy of Katie Sanchez)
By Katie Sanchez

On the corner of Second Avenue and C Street in Upland sits an antique shop — ordinary in appearance and absolutely nothing else.

If you were to judge it prematurely, you’d probably believe it to be filled with your great grandma’s dining room and bedroom sets. You would be wrong. 

Don’t let your eyes deceive you, for The Vintage Vault of Upland is much more than just an antique store. Fitting with its name, this shop safeguards some of the finest gems money can buy.

Carlos Velastegui, the vault’s owner, is one of the gems. Growing up a troubled youth, Velastegui dropped out of high school at a young age. He joined his entrepreneurial father in one of his many businesses as a means of earning money.

“I was a troubled individual,” Velastegui said about his academics. “I didn’t know anything.”

At the age of 27, after being out of school for almost a decade, Velastegui decided to invest deeper into education. Once a problematic teen, he now has an associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree under his belt.

With a new confidence about him and the desire to help people, Velastegui stumbled upon the Vintage Vault by way of his father. 

“This was more his thing in the beginning as far as the “antique” aspect of it,” he said. “I kind of went with it for a couple of years just because that’s what his direction was. It wasn’t working.”

Skyrocketing home prices led to a decreased demand for furniture. Velastegui knew he had to make a change in order to save the business.

Going against his father’s early plans, he took the business in an alternate direction. He strayed away from antique furniture and set his sights on vendors with a vintage feel to their businesses. 

Slowly but surely, the shop shifted from an ancient tomb of lost artifacts to a vault encapsulating remnants of the past with a modernized twist. The Vintage Vault carries an assortment of items ranging from fashion inspired by previous decades to restored collectables. 

Velastegui went even further in his effort to revamp the business. After seeing the crowds brought in by the annual Lemon Festival, Velastegui was blessed with an idea. 

“We would use the parking lot to have some vendors in there,” he said. “I had to actually beg people and give them real great deals. I had to give people spots for free to show them that there were possibilities here.”

He started with a couple of vendors and was permitted by the City of Upland to host a vending fair one day per month. As interest in the event grew, this evolved into two days per month with about 100 vendors.

Since then, The Vintage Vault of Upland has put on multiple events, such as monthly Art Walks, Dapper in Downtown and Vault-Con. Each event has its own creative elements, while still sticking to the initial idea of a vending fair.

These events hold a special importance beyond simply providing entertainment to local families. Their impact on the vendors has been huge. 

“I wasn’t always a good guy,” Velastegui said emotionally. “But with age and maturity, I’m able to give back and help.”

He takes great pride in knowing the Vault is not a parasitic business, benefiting off the backs of others, but instead holds a symbiotic relationship with its vendors.

“We’re like a big brother because we are taking them by the hand, showing them the ropes and providing an outlet that has actually helped both of us as businesses,” Velastegui said.

Even with all its successes, The Vintage Vault has experienced some hardships.

The closing of the business during the pandemic brought a lot of financial strain on the owner and his dependent vendors. Even after reopening, it was getting little to no customers. 

Fortunately, after almost a year since its initial closure, The Vintage Vault has completely reopened and has received even more foot traffic than before the pandemic. 

Velastegui had a mural painted on the southside of the Vault to encapsulate the struggles of 2020. The commemoration depicts a bald eagle carrying a surgical mask in its beak. He hoped it would communicate to locals the perseverance of the American people through the pandemic and symbolize the end of 2020.

Stepping out of the rubble, The Vintage Vault is looking forward to brighter days ahead.

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