By Dana Hantel
When Nathaniel Hart was 12 or 13 years old, he started selling clothes, sneakers and other hard-to-find items.
“I always liked fashion and dressing and expressing myself that way,” he said.
Over time, he bought and sold things out of his basement and “built a following through social media and special events,” like the Star City Vintage Festival.
He began to imagine that this could develop into a more substantial enterprise, so he started saving money and finding capital. On Oct. 31, his dream became a reality as Gallery 304 hosted a grand-opening at its new location in downtown Morgantown.
Reflecting on his journey, Hart said, “At times it seemed not probable, but every time I kept going, something good would happen and I gained some momentum.”
He shared this advice for other young people: “If you really have a dream or a goal, just keep working toward it. Sometimes you’re closer than you think.”
Noah Fenton, one of Hart’s loyal customers, said, “I was the first person inside his first shop, and it was amazing to finally experience the vintage West Virginia gear.”
A Mountaineers fan living in Ohio, Fenton stays in touch with Hart and travels to Morgantown every few months to see the latest pieces and discuss WVU sports. Fenton said that Hart “always has so much to choose from and very rare WVU pieces you can’t find or see anywhere.”
Gallery 304 does boast an expansive collection of vintage apparel, including “the greatest collection of vintage WVU gear on Earth,” according to its website. Yet this is more than a shop for dedicated vintage enthusiasts and Mountaineers fans.
Hart believes “you can find something, no matter who you are.”
At the grand-opening, the shop’s diverse offerings included a Garfield telephone, a Minnie Mouse clock, a Michael Jordan poster and a Smashing Pumpkins T-shirt. Walking around this very modern space filled with vintage things, you get the sense that you’re on a time-traveling treasure hunt.
In the age of internet shopping with brick-and-mortar retail becoming increasingly difficult, Hart is betting on the power of unique experiences. “I focus on creating an environment to shop in. I want people to leave with an experience they’re excited about,” he said. “The stuff I sell, Amazon doesn’t sell yet.”
Hart went on to share that “vintage is becoming very mainstream. People don’t mind paying more because they know the story. It’s sustainable. And it’s really unique, limited and rare. You’re not going to walk down the street and see someone wearing the same thing as you.”
His favorite thing about vintage is the history tied to the pieces.
“The pieces have stories. College students buy stuff that’s older than them.”
Sellers tell tales of concerts or games, stories about cherished moments in their lives. Buyers explain why an object holds special meaning for them, or why they believe it will put a smile on the face of someone they love.
Despite the growing popularity of vintage merchandise, there wasn’t a whole lot available in the area, which Hart viewed as an opportunity.
“If you want something to exist, go out and create it yourself. Nothing existed until somebody did it,” he said. “I want people to look at Morgantown as a cool place with great style. For being a small place, it has a lot of culture.”
Learn more at www.gallery304.com or visit the brand new location at 327 High St. to enjoy the full experience. Gallery 304 is open from noon-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.