HAYWARD -- Alicia Rodriguez believes she was born in the wrong era.
She grew up in Hayward in the '70s and '80s, but her heart lies in older times -- the '30s, '40s and '50s -- and a look around the downtown boutique and hair salon that she recently opened with her husband, Alfredo, will affirm that.
Rockabilly shirts, fedoras and newsboy hats make up much of the gear for fellas, while gals can browse dresses, purses, hats and accessories that look like they were found inside dusty Jazz Age trunks at an estate sale, minus the moths and mold. In fact, no one has worn any of it before -- Vintage Alley carries brand new stuff that just looks anachronistic.
"It's newly inspired vintage," said Alicia, who ran a hair salon before opening her downtown shop. "People come in here, and they feel like they're going back in time but still keeping it fresh and new. It's a little of both worlds."
In addition to the retro duds, Alicia said they'll cut hair however customers would like but are very enthusiastic about old-school do's. Eventually she wants to get a makeup artist in the shop who can replicate period styles of lipstick and the like.
"Isn't this the best?" said customer Cherie Carlson. "My youngest daughter just turned 30. She's into retro stuff, swing dancing and so many people of that age are getting into it again."
Carlson, a retired Hayward schoolteacher who has seen various incarnations of downtown, said it's sad that so many storefronts are vacant, and she would like to see more unique boutiques follow Alicia and Alfredo's lead.
"I hope it starts a contagion effect," she said.
Sean Brooks, the city's economic development director, said Vintage Alley is just the sort of store they want to see downtown.
"Let's face it, big-box retail is all going to go into regional malls," he said. "Downtown has to be a mixed theme, with shops, arts and entertainment. It needs to be eccentric and eclectic, and this bodes well for creating a theme."
The couple said some of their friends told them they should take their idea somewhere else, maybe Berkeley, or even Los Angeles.
"We said 'No, we want to bring that kind of style here, to Hayward,'" Alicia said. "But with our own twist. Some people say that it seems like it doesn't belong in Hayward, but it does."
Alfredo, a formidable ex-construction worker who says that after more than a quarter century in the flooring and roofing trades he's "beat up, broken down and tired," welcomes his new gig of manning the counter. "He's actually a really good salesman, too," said his wife.
Alfredo said he's "fired up" about his new career.
"Alicia has always liked her art, her hobbies and her work," he said, "and her dreams became my dreams, too."
Vintage Alley is open Tuesday through Saturday at 1037 B St., near Cinema Place.
Contact Eric Kurhi at 510-293-2473. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.