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RETAIL SURVIVOR LOOKS BACK TO THE FUTURE

burtnikfinkatkinsJersey music juggernauts Glen Burtnik, Rick Fink and Nicole Atkins put down those guitars and pick up the polyvinyl platters as guest DJs in a special birthday bash for Backward Glances.

By TOM CHESEK

Regular observers of the Red Bank streetscape have certainly seen them come and go over the years — everything from longtime local landmarks to fly-by-nighters; poorly planned purveyors of luxury goods and over-conceptualized convenience stores; Mom ‘n Pops that stayed for generations and mega-brands that threw in the towel after mere months.

All just curds and whey for what we here at redbankgreen call the Retail Churn — and all so many missing teeth in downtown’s smile.

Peer closer into the maw, however, and you’re sure to spot more than one piece of original equipment that is still as strongly rooted and cutting-edge as Kanye’s carbon-crystal canines.

On Sunday, November 28, one of downtown’s genuine survivors — a merchant establishment that’s quietly (if colorfully) ridden the retail rollercoaster for countless economic-cycle loop de loops — throws itself a party. And some big scary friends will be bringing the tunes.

cindywolfsonbackwardglances20/20 Hindsight: Cindy Wolfson Ciullo, specialist in “all things retro, without the retch.” Below, her vocal group, the Girlettes. (Above photo by Diana Moore)

The week of Thanksgiving marks a quarter-century of existence for Backward Glances, the kitschy-cool vintage boutique that’s peddled “certified pre-owned” oddities and “retro/repro” commodities in the heart of what’s thought by many to be a “Tiffany” town.

girlettes1984

Owned and operated for all those years by Cindy Wolfson Ciullo — first on the lower level of the former Red Bank Mall at Broad and Monmouth, then for the next 16 years in a neighboring Monmouth Street storefront — the shop eventually settled into its third and current home at 43 Broad Street a bit shy of nine years ago.

Tossing a healthy amount of novelty gift items into the mix, and doing a brisk business in custom costumes (appropriate for a place “where Halloween is Christmas”), the Perth Amboy resident has undeniably kept pace with yesteryear’s style trends — drawing some extra attention to her store with such endeavors as her exclusive J&M Music t-shirts, and the 2009 reunion of her old vocal group, The Girlettes.

“Basically, it’s all about the idea that shopping should be fun,” observes the owner when asked the secret to her store’s longevity. “It’s knowing what the customers want, and knowing what sort of new stuff works well alongside the old stuff.”

Being a merchantess of vintage, however, doesn’t mean that one’s stock remains frozen in time — as Wolfson Ciullo emphasizes: “When I started out, it was the 1980s, and the ‘vintage’ clothes that I carried pretty much ended at the Mod era of the mid 1960s.”

“Nowadays, so much of my business is 1980s clothes,” she says with some degree of astonishment. “I mean, it was what people were wearing out on the street when I started selling vintage — I NEVER would have touched that stuff back then!”

Sunday night between 6 and 10p, Wolfson Ciullo and a formidable list of friends will commandeer the Fixx nightclub at 26 West Front Street for a “dance party and vintage dress-up night” that shakes, shimmies and fingerpops on the strength of her guest-DJs’ collections of favorite vintage vinyls. We already figured her to have a discerning ear for oldie goodies — but what of her taste in friends?

Well, there’s Glen Burtnik — a relatively recent transplant to Monmouth County; honorary Beatle via his starring in the original Beatlemania tour; a member of Styx for years; a hit songwriter (“Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” “No More Lies”), a major label solo artist and a go-to guy of the first rank whose allstar Xmas Xtravaganza (an event for which Backward Glances has supplied dancer outfits) will make its annual stand at the Count Basie next month.

There’s Nicole Atkins, the nationally known singing/songwriting Shorebird who’s about to re-enter the arena with a new album and tour in January — a fervently followed favorite of whom it’s been said in this space, “her writing is noirishly sharp, the music is an intoxicating swirl of psychedelia crossed with country and vaudeville, and her swooning voice is transporting.”

There are a couple of regional radio royals, including Altrok Radio’s Sean Carolan — and the welcome return of Molly Liefer Lenz, one of the great gang of on-air personalities from the much-missed “modern rock at the Jersey Shore” era of FM 106.3, WHTG.

There are two turntable titans of the Jersey clubscape — the legendary Lenny Lounge (the Dean — perhaps Pope — of the swingin’ bachelor pad), and Jimmy D, whose Midnight Vultures Dance Party events are one of the best new traditions of this holiday-homecoming time of year.

There’s also the one and only Scott Stamper, your gracious host at The Saint in Asbury Park (and the impresario behind the annual Asbury Music Awards). All seven of the guest spinners will be digging into their magic milk crates, and working that spiral scratch from lip to label on a bevy of decades-spanning hits.

Attendees (21 and over only, kids) are invited to “wear your vintage best,” with prizes awarded for the best “real vintage” (not costume) outfits. Admission is free with a printed pass, which can be picked up at Backward Glances anytime during business hours — no purchase necessary.

“We’ll be here, giving out free passes, right up to 6 o’clock Sunday night,” Wolfson Ciullo says. “And we’ll be here for many more years — just trying to keep Red Bank interesting.”

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank business owner happier than to hear "I saw your ad on Red Bank Green!"
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