Off the rack: Nizny's Pixel 19 supplies more than vintage kitsch

Pass by 211 Klotter Street in Clifton and you’ll see an oversized turquoise egg, a green glass bottle and a few pieces of driftwood decorating the porch, but nothing that hints that this is the location of Pixel 19, a vintage shop that supplies sellers around the globe. It’s also the home of Stu Nizny.

Nizny, 44, grew up in Cincinnati. He attended school at Seven Hills followed by a boarding school in Boston. Soon after, Nizny began traveling to cities he wanted to visit, loading up his car with vintage clothes and other items he stockpiled in Cincinnati. The first large purchase he remembers making was in Chicago while visiting his sister. He walked into a store that was closing and ended up purchasing hundreds of sunglasses and old bike-racing caps. Since then, he’s been buying up the best vintage items he can find. While he now has an estimated 100,000 t-shirts and a warehouse full of stock that he rotates in and out of his store, Nizny was a salesman long before he carted those sunglasses home.

It all started when Nizny was around seven years old, growing up on Rose Hill Avenue in North Avondale. He would take items he owned, such as his own camera, and knock on neighbors' doors, introduce himself and try to sell them.

“I always knew I was a little different,” Nizny says. “It was always strange to me that other kids were paying attention to the teacher and doing whatever they were told. I was always drawing pictures and doing other creative things.”

Now, Nizny embraces that difference. The self-proclaimed eccentric wears cowboy boots with silver-plated toes, six necklaces, five bracelets on his right hand alone and a giant watch with a leather strap on his left. His hair is shaved into a small Mohawk on the front half of his head. He wears bone-like earrings that are nearly four-inches long. Six vintage lamps hang above his bed and ten-plus cases of vintage clothing fill his bedroom.

Nizny wakes up around 5 am every day and works 80-100 hours a week. He makes sure his floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, collection of vintage furniture, clothing and art are organized, stocked and ready for the next by-appointment-only customer. Some shoppers come from as far away from Japan, Germany and Texas to sort through his 8,000-plus t-shirts to re-sell at their own vintage shops. Others come from down the street to find a one-of-a-kind leather jacket. One of his most recent sales was 3,000 t-shirts, at $5 each. The buyer spent more than eight hours looking at each and every shirt in Nizny’s home. By his count, Nizny supplies 12 sellers in Japan, 10 top Ebay sellers, two Etsy sellers as well as shops in Texas, California and New York.

This widespread customer base didn’t discover Nizny by accident. He built it through years of traveling and picking through flea markets and thrift stores as he developed an eye for high-quality products.

One of his newest clients is Liz Ashabranner, owner of F Rock Vintage in Austin, Texas, who stumbled upon his website after scouring the Internet for stock for her store.

“I opened four months ago, and he already knows exactly what I want,” Ashabranner says. “I’ll call him and say I need some pearl snap shirts and he ships me the perfect ones. His customer service and knowledge of product is better than anyone I’ve ever talked to.”

Nizny’s parents, who he calls flower children, have greatly influenced his path through life. He recalls being exposed to everything from classical music to art museums to live music. Another influence? A girlfriend from the early 90s who was a DAAP fashion design student. Nizny sat in on countless classes and studios with her and credits much of his fashion acumen to those times.

Still, after traveling to estate sales and thrift stores, Nizny decided it was time for a change. He moved to Los Angeles and launched a successful career as a costumer for feature films and MTV. After a few years in California, Nizny learned his mother was ill, so he moved back to be closer to his family. That’s when Nizny purchased the house on Klotter and began the present installment of Pixel 19.

“I owe this city a lot,” Nizny says. “People have always been supportive of what I do. This is a very conservative city, but it’s very tolerant.”

Pixel 19 has been the name of Nizny’s company since he was 19. It has existed in his house and in a couple of brick-and-mortar storefronts as well as online. He prefers selling out of his house because he can give each customer his undivided attention. He also knows the appointment-only aspect adds mystique to his business.

The name comes from two sources. Pixel comes from a word association game he used to play over the phone with a friend. The word pixel came up in one such game and Nizny latched onto it. Nineteen comes from Channel 19, WXIX, the channel on which Nizny used to watch "The Andy Griffith Show," one of his favorites. The name stuck after Nizny read the definition for pixel as the combination of many things forming one image. Nizny’s incredibly large collection of items are the small pieces that he has collected through his life that now form the image of who he is -- someone who has embraced his passion and worked hard to make that passion became his life.  

“Life is about human connection and selling yourself,” Nizny says. “Not in a bad way, but if you set yourself apart from everyone else, you’ll get noticed.”

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Photos by Scott

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