Right away, the smell of the Gypsy Junque bus transports all those who board to another place. Elke Lockert burns incense that recalls peace signs and shaggy hair, while her Internet radio station plays a selection of soothing classic rock just as appropriate during the Nixon administration as it is today.
"People always comment on the incense smell," said Lockert, 46, a media saleswoman from Seminole Heights. "I like shopping on the Gypsy Junque bus to be an experience. And music, you know, creates an atmosphere. This place wouldn't work with me playing 'untz-untz' Hyde Park Café music."
Once the mood is set, Lockert wants her customers — mostly at markets and music festivals — to appreciate the level of detail. Every single corner of the mobile boutique, where she sells her upcycled jewelry, clothing and accessories, has a story and a thought-out craftiness.
Lockert herself is an explosion of colors and a master class in layering. Her personal style could be considered retro, but none of it feels dated. She'll wear boots and leggings, which happened to be the trend this winter, but hers are brightly colored, Pollock-patterned leggings and knee-high suede boots with a homemade peacock-feather hair clip attached to add drama
"These things, the stuff I like, is timeless," she said. "People call it boho and I can accept that. I call it 'hippie chic.'"
Lockert started Gypsy Junque several years ago after she realized her sense of style had garnered a lot of attention and requests from the people around her. She'd do simple things like wearing a bikini top over a tank top or make herself a capelet out of an old T-shirt.
"People would tell me, 'Oh I love that. Where did you get it?'" Lockert said. The Ohio native had always been tearing things apart and layering them over one another to create her own look, so she met the praise with nonplussed shrugs. Still, if people liked her style, Lockert thought maybe she ought to try making more things.
Lockert began taking jewelry she picked up thrifting and from other places, deconstructing and "Elke-fying" them, as her friends and family call it. Old keys were bejeweled, decorated with small metal pieces, even watches, and transformed into necklaces. Tackily branded belts with prairie scenes and the words "Trailer Trash" became kitschy leather cuffs perfect for subversive youths. It's like a Project Runway "unconventional materials" challenge translated into accessories.
Everything from coyote teeth to wine corks are re-imagined by Lockert in her home studio. She sees the potential in the pieces she finds, and almost nothing on the Junque bus is sold the way it was found. Prices range from the teens up to $100 depending on the size of the piece or amount of work that went into it. And custom pieces can be ordered on-site, including key necklaces, decoupage mannequin busts and decorative astrology bottles.
When she bought the 19-foot, handicap-accessible Chevrolet school bus last January, it was supposed to be just a more stylish solution to the problem she was having with her business.
"It was like playing Jenga trying to get all the stuff into my SUV to take it to shows and markets for setup," Lockert said.
But the bus afforded her an opportunity to put her background in interior design to work. She and friends started slowly, stripping the bus but retaining some pieces to be recycled before artist Derek Donnelly got the bus rolling with a full wraparound mural, including two elephants over rows of flowers on the rear.
The project blended the flower child aesthetic with Lockert's style signature, leopard print, to create a rolling fashion statement all its own. She knew she needed an interior to rival that first impression so Lockert sifted through things she'd been collecting — things with no home, really — and realized they'd been waiting for the bus all along.
Old wooden pallets covered the walls, lending a rustic feel that somehow doesn't clash with the leopard-print tissue paper held down with basketball court laminate for the flooring. The Junque bus has a dressing room with a full-length mirror in a funky antique-looking frame and a seating area with leopard cushions and magazine decoupage to occupy to rester's eye.
An old, disassembled wooden wardrobe became her display shelves and storage, but not even those could go un-Elke-fied. "I had some pennies, so I thought, Why don't I just take some glue and throw those down on top?" Elke laughed. "Little did I know my OCD would have me trying to get them in perfectly straight lines, to the point where I was like, 'Why did I even start this?'" Fifty dollars in Lincolns later, she had a display top worthy of any Pinterest inspiration board.
In the three months since the Junque bus hit the streets, it's made a splash at local markets and concerts. Lockert has no plans for an online store, so all Gypsy Junque is purchased in person. The bus can be reserved for private events like bachelorette parties and charity functions.
As sales increase and services expand, she plans to constantly reevaluate what Gyspy Junk should be. "I can't say if I'll be doing this for another six months or the rest of my life," Lockert said. "I'll just keep creating and see where it takes me."