Vintage Store Advantages, Revealed

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Helen Widman

A bright blue standing floor sign beckons at the top of a staircase leading down between two buildings: “Athens Underground, Ohio’s best vintage store!” At the bottom of the staircase, the door is plastered with local advertisements and a sign that wards off shoplifters.

In 2003, Barbara Stout rebranded Second Hand Rose and founded Athens Underground. Stout grew up in Athens but moved to New York, where she managed a store called Alice Underground in Manhattan. 

“I was wanting to come back to Athens, because my parents and siblings are here,” Stout says. “I did not come back for the first three years [after buying Athens Underground]. I ran it long distance with employees.”

Athens Underground is unique in that it houses a wide variety of items, from colorful wigs, Christmas sweaters and gently used books and vinyls. Stout says she finds the items she sells in several places. 

“Every place that you can think of, that’s where I get it,” Stout says. “I go to rummage sales, auctions, thrift shops. I very seldom buy from people.”

One Athens Underground employee, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that Stout determines prices by the estimated value of the item. 

“Remember, in this day and age, stuff is available online, too,” the employee says. “So you have to really consider the pricing. There’s work that goes into finding these things.” 

One of the most appealing aspects that Athens Underground brings to the community is that it serves as a source for unique costume pieces and fashion design experimentation. 

“A lot of times, there are themed parties, for different sororities, fraternities…student organizations,” the employee says. “And they’ll come down here and try to…get what they need for a themed party. But I think that what they see down here ends up being more interesting to them than just the thing they’ve come down for.”

Many customers use the words “vintage” and “antique” interchangeably. 

“There’s used, there’s retro, there’s vintage, there’s antique,” Stout says. “Retro is anything that has a vintage feeling, where it’s old or not. Vintage, in my mind, is at least 25 years old. Technically antique is supposed to be 100 years, but I would say about 75. Really really old stuff tends to be rare, tiny, fragile and expensive.”

With the rise of online shopping and pop-up Halloween stores in recent years, vintage stores like Athens Underground no longer soar in popularity during the Halloween season. 

“Now because of packaged costumes…people want the quickie costume as opposed to something that’s a little harder to put together,” the employee says. 

Another change the employee has noticed is that customers are now buying cross-gender clothing. 

“We get more and more people down here now buying clothes that you would associate…with other genders in the past… There’s much more of a freedom to just wear whatever you want.”

A major problem vintage stores face is “fast fashion,” or clothes that are produced quickly, cheaply and are mass marketed to consumers. Stout is opposed to this new wave of fast fashion. 

“Most of it is being produced in other countries where people aren’t being paid living wages. The clothing industry is ecologically unsound,” Stout says.

Stout firmly believes that vintage stores are the best way to shop, saying vintage clothing overall is more unique and economical.

“I think we have the best price and store in Athens,” Stout says. “It’s the ultimate in recycling. There are multiple problems with the way we buy more and more clothes, and the way we change our clothes every year.”