Everyday Icon: Cora Frazer, Vintage Shop Owner

Whether she's rescuing vintage wares or adopted dogs, this inspiring entrepreneur believes that every piece (and every pet) has a special story to tell.
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The kind of hunting Cora Frazer finds thrilling couldn’t be more different from the variety that word typically references. She’s not out to stock her freezer or looking for a new head to mount. Rather, she’s on the prowl for one-of-a-kind vintage pieces that she hopes to give a second chance at life.

Cora’s a seasoned hunter—almost a decade ago, she and her partner, Carl Ernst, first opened the doors of their shop, Oak Street Vintage, in Eugene, Oregon. Three locations later, each one bigger and better than the last, the duo has melded their work and passions into a successful and happy lifestyle.

“The hunt is definitely one of the hardest but most exciting things about this business,” Cora says. “Lately I’ve been really into jewelry, and I’m having a lot of fun learning that field—that’s one of the best things about this job, it’s never-ending learning.”

Beyond being a greener way to shop, vintage also offers more than meets the eye—each piece comes complete with a unique and often rich history. Case in point: Cora recently purchased a new-to-her rug from a family whose home was filled with interesting art and furniture from around the world. Now, it makes her smile every time she walks into her own bedroom.

“It’s the first thing my eyes are drawn to,” she explains. “It’s warm, cozy and beautiful, and it’s obviously travelled some distance—it’s a hand-woven piece of art.”

It’s easy to imagine spending hours getting lost behind the scenes of Oak Street’s collection. The shop has a little bit of everything, but is known for its beautifully curated selection of furniture and home décor. One story not to be missed, however, is Cora's. Below, she tells us how she's embracing what it means to live a life of intentional rescuing (and how that applies to her beloved pets along with vintage wares). 

What originally got you interested in vintage?

You know, it’s really always been a part of my life. When I was in grade school, my mom would dress me up in vintage dresses, and I was about 14 when my dad gave me my first record player with vintage albums. So it was really my parents that introduced me to the world of vintage and gave me an appreciation for older things.

What about vintage appeals to you? Why do you think vintage is a better choice than something new?

Vintage pieces have soul and character! They have stories to tell and a history to research, not to mention that it seems like everything used to be made better. Things used to be made to last a lifetime, and it almost feels like we’ve gone backwards—everything is so disposable these days. I love that we are recycling and reusing what’s already out there and showing others that they can, too, while still having loads of style.

There are so many wonderful things already out there in the world. Why do we need to buy all this new stuff? Most of the stuff that’s made today is not going to be anything we want in 50 to 100 years. There are definitely some exceptions to this—I’ve seen some independent designers and small businesses that are working really hard at creating pieces with intention and pride like they used to.

How did your shop, Oak Street Vintage, come to exist?

Well, my partner Carl and I were definitely collectors first. Whenever we would travel, we’d always look to see what antique or vintage shops were in that town. We just loved to cruise around and see what kinds of different stuff we could find, sometimes adding treasures to our own collection.

I can remember the exact moment when we very first talked about opening a shop in Eugene. We were actually on our way back from a road trip to the Bay Area and [we’d] had so much fun checking out some of their groovy vintage shops that we got to talking about the shopping options in Eugene. Eugene had a couple great vintage clothing shops and one antique mall, but there really wasn’t anyone offering mid-century modern at the time. We tested the waters by doing a little pop-up at a street fair here in town, and we got really great feedback, so that just gave us the push we needed. We opened shop in October of 2007—I can’t believe it’s been nine years!

What’s it like working with your significant other?

I think both of us feel incredibly lucky that we found someone that we would want to do this with and work beside everyday. I mean, there [are] definitely days we drive each other crazy and have disagreements about the business because we are human. But we’ve figured out how to work through them, and we mostly just have fun with each other. We are also really good at taking some time for ourselves, which is something I think you need to do if you work with your partner, or you will go crazy.

What do you most love about owning your own vintage shop and being your own boss?

The flexibility and freedom to be ourselves. We get to create the environment we work in everyday, and that’s pretty rad. Even though we work long hours and it’s not always easy, there’s still this sense of freedom that you’re working towards your own goals. Oh, and we get to bring our dogs to work, that’s a huge plus in my book.

Is it sometimes hard for you to part with particular pieces you love?

Yes, there’s a rosewood bench I so badly want to take out of the shop and home right now, haha. Our rule is, we only buy what we would want to put in our own home, so that can make it difficult. But when the right person comes in and falls in the love with something, then you get excited about someone loving it as much as you do, and it’s all good. We feel like we’re matchmakers sometimes. It’s really exciting to see these things get a new life.

What’s your favorite vintage piece in your home?

One of my very favorite things in our house right now is a hand-carved door from the 70’s by a woodworker named Tom Williams. He studied here in the Northwest for a while, so it’s really fun to know it was made in the area. It’s basically just a huge piece of art, a very large sculpture. It’s very 70’s, part hippie, part modern, part abstract.

You were born and raised in Eugene—what do you love about the city that’s made you stay and start your business there?

Eugene is just big enough for me—I wouldn’t do too well in a big city for very long. We are surrounded by nature and I absolutely love that. There’s a great community [and] we’ve met so many awesome people through our store, friends that we’ll probably have for life. Being close to my family is also very important to me, and I’m thankful that I actually enjoy spending time with them!

What do you like to do in your free time?

Like most small business owners I know, I really don’t know what that means anymore. I really have to be intentional about setting some time aside for me. If I schedule some time off, it’s usually to go camping or take a day adventure in the woods somewhere with a friend. Sometimes it’s nice to take a staycation and work in the garden or do some cooking. I also volunteer at the local animal shelter here in town, and I find it to be really therapeutic to go out there and walk the dogs, just get myself out of my own head for a while.

I know that rescues dogs are an important issue for you. Can you talk a little more about that?

I am an animal lover and it breaks my heart to think of these homeless and unloved animals sitting in the shelter for no fault of their own. Please spay and neuter your pets! There are so many amazing dogs and cats sitting in the shelters every day and being euthanized every single day because of some irresponsible people. I’m sorry, I know it’s sad to think about, but it’s a reality that’s important to acknowledge and educate. I think there are so many preconceived notions about rescue animals that are just not true, and it’s important for us to speak up for them! Be a voice for the voiceless, as they say. Please, if you are thinking about buying a dog, go spend a day at the shelter.

You mentioned earlier that you love bringing your own pets to work. What do you love most about having an awesome pack of dogs?

Waking up to a bunch of happy smiling faces that are excited about the day and to be alive is awesome. My life is so much richer with them in it. They get me out of the house every single day. All three of them are so different it’s great. Dogs teach us how to live in the moment, how to love unconditionally and—this is true especially for rescue dogs—how to forgive. Our newest pack member, Lilou, has been through so much in her short life, but she doesn’t hold a grudge or feel sorry for herself, she just loves. 

What’s a day in the life of Cora like?

My day mostly consists of dogs and work. It’s kind of funny to say, but it’s the truth! First thing I do when I get up is feed the animals or they will be right on your heels until you do! Then we load them up and take them on some sort of an adventure. We do a lot of hiking in the area, or on the warmer summer days I’ll take them to the river or creek so they can swim. It’s really a great way to start the day.

Then it’s time to get off to work—we don’t open until 11 so we can have that time in the morning. Most workdays I’m at the shop cleaning, rearranging and putting out new inventory. We close around 6 or 7 and go home to make dinner or pick up take-out on our way, but we’re usually excited to get back home to our babies. We love being at home with them.