Welcome to Mr. Throwback, where athletes and celebrities get their retro sports gear
The vintage sportswear store in New York’s East Village is a sea of ’90s snapback hats, jerseys, Starter jackets, and toys. Michael Jordan posters are plastered everywhere. An oversized Knicks watch hangs on the wall. There’s a phone that sings the Nickelodeon theme song and a Sega Genesis, unopened and intact in its box like a time capsule.
“This store,” says Tony Messina, employee of Mr. Throwback, “it’s like my childhood vomited all over the walls.”
Sports fans like Messina, nostalgic for their own childhood memories, have made Mr. Throwback an institution. The COVID-19 pandemic – which put live games on hiatus – has thrown gasoline on an already booming interest in retro sportswear. With no live sports to watch, fans turned to the past – embodied in the hit docuseries “The Last Dance”, which averaged over 5.6 million live viewers each week and was the documentary ESPN’s most watched of all time. This interest has also led to an increase in sales of sports cards, retro merchandise and equipment.
Hats that sold for $ 60 half a dozen years ago are now selling for more than double. (When Phoenix Suns goalie Devin Booker recently wore a retro USA Basketball cap, the market price dropped from $ 30 to $ 150.) Jerseys that once cost $ 150 now cost $ 400.
“In the same way that sports cards exploded during the pandemic,” says Mr. Throwback’s owner Mike Spitz, “retro sports equipment too. My competition is no longer just eBay.”
Now, luxury brands like Gucci, Celine, Versace and Prada have taken a look at ’90s sportswear in their 2021 spring and summer collections. Etsy, eBay, and nationwide retailers like Urban Outfitters have also started selling items. retro sport. Even Vogue got on board.
Mr. Throwback, however, is one of the few local stores in the United States to specialize in this niche. There are others, like Throwbacks Northwest in Seattle, as well as And Still in Los Angeles, which is now only online. But the Spitz store has become the go-to for athletes, celebrities and sports fans across the country looking for rare and quirky memorabilia – true vintages, not replicas.
“People went to the NBA store and asked where the non-Mitchell & Ness comeback jerseys were,” Spitz said. “Even the employees there tell them to go see Mr. Throwback.”
Athletes often come looking for retro products for their favorite alma maters or retired players. NBA fashion star (and Miami Heat forward) PJ Tucker recently wore an old-fashioned Texas Longhorns jacket he bought from Mr. Throwback, leading to an influx of inquiries about UT equipment. In the heyday of Knicks Linsanity, Jeremy Lin came along, and other hoopsters like Andre Drummond, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Iman Shumpert (and his wife singer-songwriter Teyana Taylor) have arrived since. Most recently, Los Angeles Angels infielder and New York native / former Yankee Andrew Velazquez stopped to sail with his girlfriend.
Spitz, 39, looks like the type of guy you imagine calling regularly on New York City Sports Talk Radio. On a Friday afternoon, he wears an oversized Patrick Ewing jersey and snapback cap with the store logo on as he walks the aisles, sifting through his inventory, focusing on Indiana Jones sweeping through Egyptian ruins.
When it comes to developing this inventory, Spitz takes a multi-pronged approach. He scours more than 100 Facebook groups for clothing, searches Grailed, Mercari, and eBay, buys sporting goods from other non-sports thrift stores, and attends vintage clothing conventions. In Mr. Throwback’s Storage Room, other retro merchandise awaits you, ready to be traded as needed.
To ensure that the store is filled with athletes and fans alike, Spitz closely follows trends in the sports world and documents them on the store’s growing Instagram account. If the Syracuse basketball team begins to perform well, the demand for Orange basketball equipment is increasing. When a 30 for 30 documentary aired at the University of Miami, the hurricane talk got hot. “The Last Dance” has dramatically increased the demand for retro Bulls products. It’s especially fun for Spitz when the Knicks are playing well, as he can bring out the backlog of equipment he’s built up over three decades of Knicks fandom.
And every time he walks to Madison Square Garden, he searches the pile and chooses something special for himself – often wearing it with the tags still on. This is when he most remembers why he opened the store.
“Carrying my gear to MSG,” he says, “makes me a kid again. “
Spitz came up with the idea of opening a souvenir store in 2012, while living with his parents on Long Island. Back then, Spitz was making his money from an accountant job he hated while working part-time at a children’s gym. His parents pushed him down the stable path, to work a classic 9 to 5 job and collect a check, but Spitz continued to feel an itch for something more.
“I was going through a quarter-life crisis,” says Spitz.
He started spending time at Dekalb Market in Brooklyn, and quickly quit his day job and opened his own stand there. He paid $ 500 a week in rent for an 80 square foot space, working Tuesday through Saturday with a makeshift inventory. He started out buying old jackets and swimsuits from friends, browsing the aisles of TJ Maxx and Marshalls for good deals he could reuse, and browsing other sources like eBay and consignment stores.
“I liked it so much,” says Spitz. He realized, “This is it. This is the rest of my life. This is what I want to do.”
This turmoil lasted eight months before new owners closed the market in November 2012 to build a high-rise building. Not knowing what his next step was, Spitz did what he always does: he saved money. Retail therapy led him to go shopping in the East Village, where later that same month he came across a storefront, fitted out with clothes racks.
He contacted the owner, who told him the space belonged to him for $ 5,700 a month. Painting the store to match its vibe would cost an additional $ 200.
He had $ 6,000 in total in his bank account.
“I put everything down,” said Spitz. “I had nothing left. I was like, ‘I’m doing this. F — this.'”
Mr. Throwback quickly began to gain attention in the New York underground fashion scene. The East Village storefront opened in November 2012, and two years later Mr. Throwback received a mini profile in a New York-based publication called Fat Man Magazine, an issue that featured musician Kid Cudi in blanket. A few days after the story was published, Spitz watched the door open.
It was Cudi, looking for sports equipment for Cleveland.
“Hello, I’m Scott,” Cudi said.
Spitz remained motionless, mouth open.
“I couldn’t even recognize him,” says Spitz. “I was so stunned.”
Since then, the store has been named in New York Magazine as the best nostalgic store in town. Fashion designer Alexander Wang sewed sweaters in the store. Rapper DaBaby wore a Larry Johnson Charlotte Hornets jersey from Mr. Throwback when he performed on Saturday Night Live in 2019. Spitz previously received a call from comedian Pete Davidson, asking him to open on a Sunday so he could go shopping with her then-fiancé. , pop icon Ariana Grande, who sang her own music while flipping through Starter jackets and t-shirts. Other famous buyers include rapper Fabulous and actors Susan Sarandon and Scarlett Johansson.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Nate Reznicek, a 29-year-old from Burlington, Kansas, who works as a data analyst in New York City, purchased a retro Kansas City Chiefs Joe Montana jersey and a Kansas Jayhawks Starter jacket.
“If it lasts that long, it’s going to stay cool,” Reznicek says. “If anyone thought it was worth staying in shape for 30 years, that’s unique.”
As Reznicek scanned the store for equipment, Messina and Spitz took him on as museum tour guides, giving a sense of the history behind each item. Messina knows what it’s like to be on the other side as a former regular customer. Before he started working in the store, he would stop twice a week to buy clothes and chat with Spitz. Spitz, impressed by Messina’s encyclopedic knowledge of the commodity, asked him if he wanted a job.
“I’m walking around, I’m literally in my childhood dream,” says Messina. “This is exactly the purpose of the store.”
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