New Bloomington business: Era Vintage Photos invites downtown visitors to dress up for fun

At 6th and Walnut streets in downtown Bloomington, the storefront next to the old Subway sandwich shop is no longer shuttered.

Tuesday was opening day for Cayla Cloke’s new photography-based business called Era Vintage Photos.

On Tuesday afternoon, employees Madison Morgan and Rynn Zimmerman sauntered about on the sidewalk, modeling some fancy renaissance attire and Old West garb, talking to passers-by about the new business.

Cloke told The B Square it’s not just the photographic prints she’s selling—it’s the experience of dressing up in clothes from a different era, and maybe in a whole different guise. “We encourage gender swapping,” Cloke said. She continued, “We also include all sizes, all orientations—you can mix and match how you want.”

For visitors who might feel more comfortable as fairies, Era Vintage Photos has pointy ears on hand: “We don’t just do humans, we also do fae folk as well,” Cloke said.

Adults pay $15 admission. Children age 10 and under get in for $10 apiece.

The hours go to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays—an hour or two later than many drinking establishments on the east side of the courthouse square. That’s part of the business plan, Cloke said: “We’re actually trying to deter people from just drinking—we want to add some entertainment.”

Cloke said she’s been networking with area barkeeps as part of the marketing plan. “When you’re a bartender, you’re kind of like a therapist. So people come in and say: Hey, what’s fun to do in town? They’re gonna direct them my way!”

The 27-year-old Cloke worked at a similar kind of vintage photo operation in Wisconsin Dells, and knew at the time she wanted to run her own store—but better and someplace else.

She had a dream when she was 19 to open an old-time photo business, but didn’t have any money. “So I saved up to move to a city I had never been to before,” she said.

Bloomington was not a random choice. “I did my research on the demographics, on the schools in town, on the age groups, the crime rates, all that fun stuff,” she said.

Cloke winnowed her choices down to a handful of places, and Bloomington was the best of the bunch—because Bloomington did not have anything like the business she wanted to open. Among the cities Bloomington vanquished were Evansville (Indiana), Des Moines (Iowa), and Elyria (Ohio). Cloke has been here four years now.

The sign for the business has not yet been installed by Everywhere Signs. But the installation already has approval from Bloomington’s historic preservation commission (HPC).  The sign had to pass muster with the HPC, because the building sits in the courthouse square historic district.

At the HPC’s July 14 meeting, commissioner Allison Chopra was not impressed with the graphic design, saying, “Am I the only one that’s aghast at the design of the sign?” The commission approved the sign despite Chopra’s concerns.

The building is owned by Hat Rentals, LLC, a name that connects easily to Juan Carlos Carrasquel, aka “The Man with The Hat.” The former Subway store is now B’Town Smoke Time. The space that Era Vintage Photos now occupies was previously home to Landlocked Music.