Over the past 75 years, Overland Park resident Ronnie Crawford has done a lot with his life. By the age of 15 he had become an Eagle Scout. A few years later he started drag racing in the National Hot Rod Association. In the mid-1960s he spent time as a Scout leader, and as a member of the Army Reserves, all while attending school at Ohio State University for a degree in fine arts.
Racing cars introduced Crawford to a lifelong love for cars. Although he stopped racing in 1970, he now finds old Ford Falcon cars and restores them. He has seven Falcons of different models — vans, sedans and a hatchback style. He uses some of the cars for parts, and others he is working on repairing.
“Some of these cars I just acquired to keep them from going to the crusher years ago,” he said. “They would have been gone.”
But despite his love of cars, Crawford still said he considers himself a conservationist. He works with Denver Trout Unlimited to help keep the South Platte River clean. He called himself a “tree huggin’ hot rodder,” joking that he even thought about making it into a bumper sticker.
“You don’t find that many people that are both,” he said. “Somehow, I don’t know what it is, but they don’t mix. But they should.”
When he moved to Denver, he pursued his passion in the arts, focusing on photography and owning several vintage shops along Broadway while he lived in the Washington Park neighborhood.
“I really didn’t know what I was going to do, but I just liked old stuff,” he said. “I knew retail, but I didn’t know I would be the guy behind the counter owning it.”
In 1978 he opened Rudely Decadent, which was located at Arkansas Avenue and Broadway for 10 years. The store offered vintage items from the 1940s to the 1960s. When he placed advertising for the shop, Crawford said it was usually long lists of items he was looking for.
The ads took him to homes all over the city, where he found a slew of unique items such as a Civil War era family tree that had locks of hair from each family member. But for Crawford, some of the most memorable things about looking for vintage fare where the people themselves. “It was so delightful,” he said of meeting people. He added that Rudely Decadent was popular with bands, including a “Prisoner of Rock `n’ Roll” era Bruce Springsteen.
“I had 45 minutes with Bruce Springsteen alone,” he said. “We had the greatest conversation, we just talked about old rock `n’ roll.”
Crawford went on to open and operate two other vintage shops on Broadway: American Aces, which specialized in Levi’s brand jeans and eventually moved into women’s wear, and American Vogue, which he closed in 2008, retiring from retail life.
In his downtime from working behind the cash registers and searching for vintage clothes, Crawford could be found behind the bar at the Skylark Lounge 1998. There are still days where Crawford can be found mixing drinks. Now that he’s retired, bartending helps give him his social fix, Crawford said.
With his shoulder-length gray curls clipped back and an earring in his left ear, Crawford said he’ll occasionally have customers come in and recognize him from his retail days. Long hair is something Crawford has always taken pride in. In his Army days he wore a short wig with a military cut every day to cover his long hair.
Many of the people also remember the items they bought from his stores.
“It’s stuff that people still have that they bought there. It wasn’t throw away stuff, it was all fun stuff,” he said. “That makes me feel so good. It makes me smile.”
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