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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Not your traditional Saturday Happy Hours on Mifflin Street

A hidden vintage gem in downtown Madison reflects all the character of the capital city

Upon first glance, 223 E. Mifflin Street appears to be just a typical house. That is, until you notice the massive lime cutout on the stairs, the colorful outside clothing rack and the bright dangling garland hanging from the roof. 

Located just past the Wisconsin State Capitol building lies Happy Hours, a secondhand clothing and decor store built inside a classic Victorian-style home.

Owned by Wisconsin native Ali Gilbertson, Happy Hours is a thrifter’s dream. A hidden gem from the vintage-crazed masses, the small business offers shoppers an eccentric experience and, if you’re lucky, a guest appearance from Gilbertson's adorable dog, Redford.


Open only on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Happy Hours is located on the first floor of what Gilbertson said used to be a residential home. She said the property has been divided since the 1940s into several rentable segments — the top floor as offices and small studios, and the bottom floor as a rotating retail space before she secured it. 

Initially set on pursuing acting in New York City, Gilbertson said she never had any plans of delving into the world of vintage reselling. But a love of secondhand was always in her DNA. 

“I grew up in a very thrifting-centric family. My parents are both artists and the most frugal people I've ever met,” Gilbertson told The Daily Cardinal. “Anything was secondhand for the purpose of saving money and being crafty.”

Eventually, Gilbertson said she recognized her passion could be turned into a full-time career. In a difficult post-pandemic era, she began by selling items out of her garage before eventually stumbling across what she considered to be the perfect storefront.

“I feel so fortunate to have found this old house that just feels so on brand and in keeping with the theme of breathing new life into old things,” Gilbertson said. “The way the walls are literally crumbling around us is very like my vibe. It also allows me to kind of get away with more of the unconventionality of it.”

Gilbertson became sentimental when asked about the response she and Happy Hours have received from the Madison community. 

“I went into this project specifically being like, ‘I'm going to do it the way I want to do it,’” Gilbertson said. “There’s that kind of vulnerability of being like, ‘Alright, I'm just gonna be me, and hope that people like it.’ And they do like it!”

One can’t help but feel like they’re just visiting a friend each time they enter the storefront.

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Part of that charm is due to Happy Hours being located in a building that could be a near identical make and model of a friend’s house. But its appeal extends beyond that. 

Gilbertson’s dog explores the first floor, sniffing at every new customer who walks in. Well-known country music plays in the background. A whole designated section of the store is lined with vintage Badgers clothes. In this way, Happy Hours is comforting in both its business model and its hominess. 

Immediately striking up a conversation with a paying customer, Gilbertson joked with the young woman about how the shirt she was buying actually was her dad’s old cast t-shirt from a play he performed in. And sure enough, there he was in the midst of a massive 90s panoramic image covering the wall, wearing the faded white tee. 

It’s obvious the personality and uniqueness of each piece resonates with shoppers. Everything from the racks overflowing with vintage items to Gilbertson’s vibrant personality is infectious, leaving a burning desire to return to Happy Hours as soon as you can. 

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