Carol Anderson of Vaguely Reminiscent

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The items you’ll find inside Carol Anderson’s shop on Ninth Street are as unique as the name of the shop itself, a reference to a song by singer songwriter Charlie King. Like many activists in the 1970’s, King was tired of political demonstrations and marches being delegitimized in the media as “vaguely reminiscent of the 60’s,” as if the 1970’s didn’t have real problems of its own that needed to be addressed. So, he wrote a song – “Vaguely Reminiscent of the 60’s” – to voice his resistance. As it turns out, Vaguely Reminiscent has much in common with its namesake song.

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Though the song is written about a serious topic, it’s actually quite funny. Anyone who has ever walked into Vaguely Reminiscent will tell you the same – this is a store with a sense of humor. Along with beautiful shoes, eclectic jewelry, and unique clothing, you’ll find packs of stick-on mustaches for the days of the week, baby onesies that read, “silently judging you,” and irreverent greeting cards that will make you laugh out loud.

Like its namesake song, the store also has a political history. In 1986, it served as a staging ground for the anti-recall effort of then mayor Wib Gulley’s anti-discrimination policy. Just last month, Anderson was traveling in New York when a rumored KKK rally led thousands to march in resistance in downtown Durham. She called Durham and told her employees to close the shop if they wanted to attend the protest. If they decided to go, she told them, it’d be paid time.

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Both this song from the 1970’s and Anderson’s shop, which opened on Ninth Street in 1982, are throwbacks to another time. When Vaguely Reminiscent opened, Erwin Mill was still in operation and the iconic McDonald’s Drug Store and soda fountain was still in business. Steadfastly remaining in its cozy spot in the middle of Ninth Street’s busiest block, Vaguely Reminiscent is one of this neighborhood’s links to the past.

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Finally, King’s song references dozens of political issues and demonstrations, making it the kind of song that people in the audience nod their heads to in appreciation and recognition. Vaguely Reminiscent is also this kind of crowd pleaser. Echoing the Ninth Street motto “something for everyone,” there are truly a staggering amount of distinctive items packed into this tiny space. Among them: hand dyed, block-printed skirts made by Jude Steuker in Asheville; Jafa shoes from Israel; and screenprinted canvas bags that read simply, “Durham I love you.”  

The 1960’s didn’t just disappear in 1970. They went on to influence the next decade and every generation after. Vaguely Reminiscent, which has certainly influenced Durham, isn’t going to die out either. When Anderson retires (at some point down the road!), she’ll be selling the shop to long time store manager Karen Merowcheck who plans to continue the Vaguely tradition on Ninth. That’s great news for Durhamites.

Without Carol’s seven employees, including Karen, the shop simply couldn’t be what it is today. Now that Carol has dependable folks to make things run smoothly while she’s away, she has more free time than she used to. So, when she’s not at Vaguely Reminiscent helping customers find exactly the right thing, Carol might be:

Planting trees with Durham Tree Advocates or volunteering with People’s Alliance.

Reading Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (this is the book she’s currently reading, and one she highly recommends).

Enjoying a meal at her favorite lunch spot, Toast, or taking in the summer concert series at Durham Central Park.