An Interview with Bottle of Bread’s Mo Rothman by Cara Ober

Baltimore’s Read Street has a special energy unlike any other part of town. For close to a century, the area, especially around Tyson Street, has offered an assortment of local art galleries, boutiques, vintage, street festivals, tattoo parlors, hair salons, coffee shops, and gay bars.

This is the sacred place where Divine ate dog poop in Pink Flamingos. This is the spot where 1960’s psychedelic bands played in local street festivals. This was the location where Pat Moran’s Divine Trash vintage store once existed.

There’s a sense of history and unique personality in the tiny storefront shops that line the street and, in the past year or two, a number of small, local entrepreneurs have launched new retail businesses here, including Keeper’s Vintage, the Bun Shop, Randall Scott Projects (which unfortunately closed this fall), and Bottle of Bread.

From the sidewalk, Bottle of Bread brims with an enticing, smart, and quirky energy. Check their Instagram feed and it’s confirmed. This store is expertly and lovingly curated to offer a range of functional vintage pieces for men and women, as well as locally made jewelry, pottery, and art.

After visiting Bottle of Bread’s new location on the North side of the street, we reached out to Mo Rothman, the store’s owner, to find out more.

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Where are you from? What’s your background?

I am from San Diego, California. I grew up in the city center, so I was lucky to be able to enjoy both the city landscape, as well as quick ocean, desert, and mountains access. Of course when you only know one place, it is impossible to appreciate it for all of those qualities.

So when I was in high school I was just waiting to get out. I moved to Baltimore for college where I studied art, and fell in love with the city. I’ve been here ever since!

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How did you come up with the idea for Bottle of Bread? And more importantly, how did you get this effort started?? 

I have been interested and collecting vintage clothing since I was a kid. I would spend the weekends walking around Hillcrest going to different thrift stores and vintage shops. My best friend growing up had vintage collectors and sellers in her family, so we spent a lot of time admiring those pieces (and trying them on!).

When I was 16, I started an Etsy shop. I called it Bottle of Bread, after a Bob Dylan song…. I just thought it was quirky and sounded cool. And I was totally obsessed with Dylan at the time. I would sell vintage pieces I found at thrift stores, and also pieces I had made from vintage fabric.

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Did you have past experience with retail or entrepreneurship that helped you to navigate this process?

My Etsy was my “high school” job, and helped supplement me in college as well. I actually had never worked a formal retail job until I opened up my shop in 2013. My parents have been extremely encouraging from the beginning. My mom, an ultra feminist and professor of business, encouraged both me and my sister to be our own bosses and do what we love, no matter what.

Tell me about the concept of the store. What makes it special? What is your criteria for selecting/ curating the space and the items you sell? What are the range of items visitors can find?

Bottle of Bread is a curated collection of vintage and handmade focusing on wearable vintage for men and women, as well as the work of local makers. I take into consideration what is in style but honestly, I sell what I love. I think my shop is more or less a reflection of my interests in fashion, history, and art. There is a lot to look at in the shop. Clothing, accessories, and jewelry of course. But also art prints, ceramics, textiles, artifacts, and and apothecary items.

I’m super inspired by my home town of San Diego. As it is just a 15 minute drive to Mexico, the vibrancy of Mexican culture and art can definitely be seen in the pieces I collect and display in the shop.

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Do you have a philosophy regarding vintage clothing? Why are vintage items often more interesting / a better choice than new? 

Vintage is sustainable. That is SO important to me and the philosophy behind Bottle of Bread. In a world of fast fashion and horrible labor conditions in garment factories, shopping vintage is a good way to not participate in the environmental and social impact of todays fashion industry.

Local goods are also sustainable! I love the idea that people who buy the maker goods in my shop are putting money into the pockets of local artists in THIS city. Keep it in the family!

I also think that there is SO much more creativity involved in wearing vintage. One of the best examples of this is re-appropriating garments from their original intended use. I love that vintage lingerie is coming back as outwear, and the revival of American workwear and uniforms.

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Can you tell me about the original works of art, jewelry, and crafts by local makers that are available?

We carry over 20 different artists’ work in the shop. Some of my favorites:

-Beth Hoeckel’s beautiful collage work. Her prints fit in so well to the aesthetic of the shop because she draws from vintage magazines and other paper products giving each image a very nostalgic feel. the content and her use of color are totally spot on.
-Another fairly new artist added to the shop is Harry Kuttner. His work includes ceramics and bolo ties made with rocks he forages. His work is influenced by the concept of the American “wild west,” which is a mysterious and fascinating place!
-Jonathan Rossler makes beautiful hand stitched leather wallets in a variety of sizes and styles. His work is timeless and so beautifully crafted.
-Charm City Wax makes soy candles in the best scents, my favorites are Campfire, and Blood Orange And Bergamot.
-New Relic is a line of plant stands/hangers made by a trio of artists. Their work is super geometric and contemporary while also heavily mid century influenced and uses a combo of metal and wood.
-Morgan Frailey makes incredible fiber jewelry accented by handmade ceramic and wood pieces. I love the way she uses color and texture to make little pieces of wearable art

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-9-22-53-pmCereamics by Tina Haines in the foreground.

Can you describe your personal fashion aesthetic? What is your staple item of clothing that you love to wear? What item of clothing do you think everyone (or most people) should consider adding to their wardrobe?

My fashion aesthetic is sort of all over the place. I wear lots of denim and T-shirts, but I am super influenced by 1940’s western wear. I also really love 20’s and 30’s sportswear…. like gym and sports uniforms! And 90’s minimalist fashion has its place in my heart as well! Theres no one thing everyone should own. Everyone has their one “staple” item. Mine is a denim jacket. I have had the same one since high school and its my baby.

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What are your goals for the future and your presence on Eager Street, a historic retail area in Baltimore that seems to be adding new shops and restaurants?

Read street has such a rich history. In the 1960’s and 70’s it was where all the hippies, mods, beatniks, and weirdos hung out. Pat Moran had her vintage shop Divine Trash on Read, there were book shops, record stores, smoke shops, etc. People often compare the “good ol days” to those of Greenwich Village in NYC. I want to bring it back!

There are a lot of empty storefronts right now…. some owned by slumlords, some getting worked on slowly. But I think with some effort we could fill those spaces and bring back the freaks that once filled the streets.

I love the neighborhood, the people are fantastic! I’m so glad that places like Keepers Vintage and Knits, Soy and Metal are here as well as The Bun Shop and Wet City around the corner. We also have the classic establishments that have been bringing people to Read St for many year like Robert’s Lock and Key and The Drinkery!

unnamed-5A photo from the Read Street heyday! The band Psychedelic Propellers playing in 1967 outside of the shop.

Check out Bottle of Bread in person or shop them online here: http://www.shopbottleofbread.com.

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Author Cara Ober is Editor at BmoreArt