At Flashbacks, a commune-fund-turned-passion for the old, new and wacky, patrons can find wares from vintage clothes to funky furniture and shop like it’s going out of style.
On Dec. 1, 1986, Steve Nichtberger and his hippie friends opened the doors to Flashbacks Recycled Fashions. The goal was to fund the purchase of land so they could start a commune.
As the reality of work became evident to future members, the commune never happened. But 32 years later, Flashbacks is still running. Hitting the store on 818 W University Ave. means a visit with funky mannequins, a variety of vinyls, antique jewelry and clothing that ranges in trends from the fifties to today.
Nichtberger credits the publication of a 1990 article in TIME magazine about the benefits of reusing, reducing and recycling vintage finds with bringing secondhand fashion into the popular conscious.
“I feel the type of person who shops at Flashbacks isn’t necessarily ‘thrift,’” Nichtberger said.
Nichtberger describes Flashbacks as “fashion-forward, fashion-backwards.” He is confident in the eclectic range of styles his business features, and the sustainability of used clothing in a market dominated by fast fashion and mass textile production.
However, Flashbacks is unique from traditional thrift stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army. The store not only sells clothes but buys them too, from brands that are carried at the mall all the way to pieces found at vintage auctions.
“I don’t only want to sell just one style,” Nichtberger said. “I love everything, and I want to find the different.”
Despite the growing presence of online resale and vintage clothing, Flashbacks serves as a physical place where people can go to for more than a fair deal: it’s a place to play dress up, to find your prom dress and to take a look at fashions past and present in a sustainable way.
“I tell you, if I was just into the money, I would only be online,” Steve said. “I keep the store going because it’s so much fun, it’s an experience, it’s always a joy; it’s the journey.” •
- Paths mix and meet as the shoe stock is constantly updated with loafers, heels, orthopedic options and more. The perfect pair of Doc Martens or rainboots waits for a new owner within the slew of styles on the catwalk of shelves at the front of the store.
- Mannequins and heads styled at random lurk through the store, eyeing eager shoppers. While every piece a mannequin wears is a one-time advertisement, employees update their outfits with the newest merchandise.
- Nameless textures and wares find their way to the walls of Flashbacks. Buyers choose unique pieces in order to
show off the honest personality of the store, showing that inclusivity is the norm.
- Venturing past the recognizable brands in the first half of the store takes patrons to the section that truly engages a flashback. Clothes from every decade live in style among shabby gems of furniture and gently loved housewares of the past.
- Sam Stickles maintains and styles a mannequin. “It’s changed my life,” Stickles said of time spent at Flashbacks, “and that’s no joke.” Nichtberger said the people he hires are those who have the ability to make anyone feel right at home.