A GLAM SLAM TALKS RETRO SPORTS FASHION WITH MR. THROWBACK
When it comes to sports fan apparel, fashions that are out of style are what’s in style. Consumer demand for vintage team gear has several companies producing retro-inspired merchandise. Despite the surge in mass produced throwback styles, many fans are still seeking those original, hard to find items.
Imagine a walk-in closet housing satin Starter Jackets, NBA Champion jerseys, old-school Jordan kicks, athlete figurines, and a range of 1980’s and 90’s retro treasures. That’s what you’ll find at Mr. Throwback. Every inch of the East Village shop is covered; racks of clothing feature vintage fashions for pro and collegiate teams and players, walls are lined with snapback caps and posters, and a corner of cassette tapes, video games and Goosebumps books will take you back in time. Leaving no detail unturned, each piece of apparel also features a vintage trading card that doubles as a price tag.
Store owner, Michael Spitz, likened the space to his childhood bedroom. The Long Island native has had a longtime passion for throwback sports apparel and accessories. A self-proclaimed “hoarder,” he’s gone from selling pieces from his own collection online and at flea markets, to opening the retail shop. Clad in vintage New York Knicks apparel from head-to-toe, he spoke to A Glam Slam about the business of selling throwbacks.
For retro gear, an athlete’s career performance isn’t necessarily a selling point. Deadstock items pertaining to a player who was not as talented, as popular or as famous, are among the must-have pieces for fans. “The more obscure the better,” Spitz explained. Throwback items have cachet among sports enthusiasts both young and old. Reasons for purchase vary but the one-of-a-kind nature of offerings is a common thread.
The store has only been in business for four months, but Mr. Throwback was recently named “Best Nostalgia Shop” by New York Magazine. Check it out at 428 East 9th St. btw 1st & A (646-410-0310) or online at www.mrthrowback.com. To preview available items, follow the shop on Instagram: @MrThrowbackNYC.
A Glam Slam visited Mr. Throwback to talk about the store’s offerings, best-selling items and the trend in retro fan fashions. Check it out:
(Michael Spitz aka “Mr. Throwback”)
How did you start your business and how did you accumulate this gear?
I started in ’04, November 8th is when I started selling my first pieces online. It was just going into my parents basement and in my childhood bedroom, looking around, collecting all of this stuff and selling it online. People were actually interested in it and everything was going for a lot of money. So I continued thrifting, meeting people, going on Craigslist. I continued it through college and in January of last year, I started selling at Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market. From January to May, I sold everything on Saturdays and Sundays. I realized that this is an amazing concept and people were really interested in this stuff. I decided I wanted to do this full time, so I quit my accounting job and found Dekalb Market in Brooklyn. It’s an open air flea market from Tuesday to Sunday everyday. I opened up shop there from May to Oct 1. It closed up and I began looking for stores. I found this gem and opened up on November 8th. So I started selling November 8th, 2004 and opened shop November 8th, 2012.
This is a unique niche. Other than an outlet such as ebay, is there any other store out there like it?
No, there’s not a compilation of vintage, predominately 80’s and 90’s clothes, and then also toys, video games, phones, sneakers and any type of figurines. This store is actually a lot like my childhood bedroom. When you come in you think, wow, all these clothes and toys are from my past. Coming in here, it’s an experience. I wanted the store to bring back some type of childhood memory. And there’s nothing like it in Manhattan.
Do you actively go out and seek items or do you wait for people to come to you with throwback pieces?
People do come in and bring stuff and I consign sometimes if it’s a really high profile item. Especially if you’re 25-30, you have this stuff in your basement or your parents have it. A pair of sneakers came in just now that I’ve actually been wanting, so I just bought them.
If you’re buying from a customer, say a vintage jersey, how do you price it at that point?
It depends on condition, it depends what year it is, the player. Actually the more obscure a player is, the more expensive he is, like a Bryant Reeves Vancouver Grizzlies ’94. The rarity of that jersey if someone’s looking for something like that, he’s an expensive guy. Obviously deadstock, unworn condition is preferable. If people want original stuff with tags, that price is much higher too.
In general, how do you determine an item’s worth?
Doing this for so long, I know for example that a Jason Kidd jersey, for some reason, is worth about 60 bucks. That’s what he goes for on Dallas Mavericks. Not many people want to wear New Jersey Nets, they want Brooklyn, but as a nostalgic vintage shop, people are looking for that so that’s what’s great about that. A Starter Jacket would be anywhere between $100 and $200.
What about autographed clothing items? Are those pieces a greater sell?
Autographed stuff doesn’t sell usually, like jerseys. I actually recently sold one but luckily it was because the guy was looking for it, a Damon Stoudemire Raptors jersey. So that was an easy sell. But as a collector, the people who come in, they want that authenticity certificate. I don’t know of that many collectors in the clothing world. I collect personal jerseys, so the crappier the player is, I like it. The rarity is so exciting that no one else can get it. That’s what sells.
I would assume sneakers are a big seller?
Massive. You can go to a Fight Club and spend thousands of dollars but I sell used sneakers. I restore them and bring them back to life and then sell them, not for $300-400 but maybe for $100-150.
Can you talk more about Mr. Throwback’s sneaker restoration process?
You can bring in your sneakers here. People come in all the time and ask about the types of restoration. It’s re-gluing, re-painting, decreasing, sole-swapping and sea glowing. Anybody who bought a pair of kicks back in the day and doesn’t want to buy a new pair because it’s so nostalgic to wear an ’01 edition of Jordans or a ’98 or ’88, this way they can wear them again if they bring them to us.
If I’m looking for a specific throwback item, can I contact you, tell you what I’m looking for, and have you seek out that item?
Absolutely. I actually work with four different vintage stores in different states. We all work together and call each other to say hey, do you have this Jordan jersey or this Knicks jersey or this hat. So we’re all connected in that culture. There is a circle of life with the vintage stores.
You can call me and let me know what you’re looking for. If we don’t have it, I’ll contact one of my other four individuals to see if they have it and we’ll work out some type of situation where if he has it, I’ll trade him something for it that he wants. Then it’ll come to my store and I can sell it to the customer looking for that item.
What are customers typically looking to find? Is there a popular seller? An unexpected big seller?
My niche is really the sports side of it. That’s what I grew up on, always playing basketball and little league and bowling. I was always into that sports fashion. The NBA Champion jerseys are a hot seller. But everyday it’s something new. It’s a lot of walk-ins and anyone from a 4-year-old to a 70-year-old comes into the store looking for something specific.
Fans young and old embrace the retro fashions – young fans want to stand out from the pack with something unique and one-of-a-kind; for older fans items offer a sense of nostalgia, fond memories of youth or a team’s glory days. Does your customer base span age demographics or skew more towards one direction?
It varies but everybody does like that throwback. Obviously there are companies making new stuff but I’m not interested in that. I want you to remember the good old days. Like the Starter on your wrist, that’s a great feeling to wear the authentic version of it. There is a place for it and we have it here.
Throwback jerseys and vintage apparel are currently a huge fashion fad among sports fans. Even the Starter Jacket is making an official comeback. Why do you think throwback items have become so popular?
As a fan going to any type of sporting event, you want to deck out. I think it’s harder to find vintage clothes and know where to get it. And when you can’t get it but you can see something that replicates something else, like Mitchell & Ness, they’re really reaping the benefits because it’s so hard to get vintage clothes. I personally don’t like it but I understand it. If you can’t find an item but someone’s replicating something that looks vintage, why not buy that one. People might want something right now so they can grab those products right away. To me, I can’t put on anything like that because I love vintage clothes. It’s so different here because these are nostalgic, it’s a one-of-a-kind piece, so it’s a different feeling putting on something original, than putting on a new throwback jersey.
Is it difficult to part with items?
Yes. I am a massive hoarder. I have a back room and there are specific items in there that I hold onto, like a Jordan rookie jersey from ’84. That’s hard to get rid of that because I loved Jordan growing up.
What is your dream throwback item? Is there something you’ve been coveting but haven’t gotten your hands on yet?
Anything game worn Jordan would be something I would want. A jersey, a 45 game worn or the 12 where he came back. The Johnny Kilroy, that jersey is so nostalgic and so rare that he probably is the only one that owns it. So if that came into my store, you put up a huge number for that.
Do you see this as just as much a museum as a store where you sell goods?
Obviously it is a business and we want people to buy stuff, but it’s nice to talk to someone about their past, about what they had, about what they want. Coming here is definitely an experience. People need to understand that there is vintage out there, you can find it here, and if you come to my store, you’ll remember your childhood.