How can one man turn beloved items from his childhood bedroom into a successful business in New York City?
Meet Michael Spitz—known as “Mr. Throwback”—a man with a dream of bringing old-school, vintage clothing back into the mainstream. Walking into his shop is like taking a ride in Marty McFly’s DeLorean and time traveling back to the 1990’s and 1980’s. Hundreds of Starter jackets, jerseys, vintage t-shirts, video games, and toys fill the shelves in his store, along with an array of vintage Jordan kicks and other classic clothing. All this can also be found at MrThrowback.com.
It all started when Spitz was a young kid growing up in Bellmore, Long Island. At the time, Michael Jordan was a larger-than-life figure, quickly becoming one of the all-time greats, winning championships year-after-year. Jordan’s signature sneakers were becoming a worldwide sensation. Spitz, currently 33, collected as many jerseys, posters, and memorabilia as possible. His first pair of kicks were the replicated 1993 Jordan 8’s that Jordan wore that year in the NBA Finals.
“Back in the early 1990’s, it was NBA basketball cards, Starter jackets, jerseys, decking out your room with memorabilia, posters, and stuff like that,” Spitz said. “Collecting today is easy for me; it’s everything I did growing up.”
Spitz—a die-hard New York Knicks fan—worked as an assistant statistician for the team in the 2000s. After being fired for simply “watching games like a fan” and flunking statistics, he looked to his passion: collecting sports memorabilia. Soon, he turned to “thrifting.”
Mr. Throwback claims, “it was the best decision of [his] life.” He attended estate sales, flea markets, and thrift shops with hopes of finding sports memorabilia he could make a dime on. After a few years of thrifting on a weekly basis, Spitz opened a pop-up shop in Brooklyn… with Manhattan soon to follow.
428 East 9th Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A—that’s where McFly’s DeLorean would drop you. Walking down the street, you can’t miss it. “Mr. Throwback – Vintage” in bold, red lettering glares out into the concrete sprawl, old-school items draped in the window, begging to be perused. Spitz calls the store’s location “nostalgic.”
“Everyone knows where it is, and if we ever moved, customers would wonder where we went,” he said.
The shop opened in November of 2012, right after Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast. Having just enough money saved to purchase the space, Spitz “painted, put up shelves, hung hangers, put some memorabilia inside, opened the shop, and hoped for the best.” They say if you open up a store in Manhattan and it’s still up-and-running after two years, you’re doing something right. Almost four years on, Mr. Throwback is running very smoothly.
The store is not big but is the essential size for customers to appreciate almost every piece of memorabilia for sale. Spitz features a small array of personal items that are off limits and will stay in his possession forever. Instead of moving to a bigger shop, Spitz plans on expanding the store when the time is right.
So, how can you order Mr. Throwback items if you can’t get to the New York City location? Head to MrThrowback.com, of course. Details on specific items include size, length/width, condition (out of ten), and “new” or “used.”
“It’s tough to sell online… everything here is one-of-a-kind,” says Spitz. “There’s always one available which makes it hard to handle. Plus, if there’s a stain or mark [on an item] people have to see it. Then you have to measure it. It’s a headache, but it’s got to be done.”
Mr. Throwback is no joke. Spitz has hooked numerous celebrities up with retro gear. Rappers, NBA players, and Hollywood stars have visited and left sporting some of the freshest styles of the 1990’s. Rappers such as Fabolous, Post Malone, Kid Cudi, ASAP Nast, ASAP Twelvy, Joey Badass, Kirk Knight, and NYCK Caution, along with NBA players Andre Drummond, Stanley Johnson, Jarrett Jack, and Dahntay Jones have all ventured inside and purchased memorabilia. Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson, fashion designer Alexander Wong, and superstar actress Scarlett Johansson are among other visitors. Johansson—the most famous of them all—has shopped in the store “three or four times.”
Spitz recalls, “[Johansson] comes in here in disguise. I didn’t even know it was her until I saw the name on the credit card.”
Brooklyn Nets guard Jarrett Jack recently contacted Spitz to do what he does best: hunt for a jersey. Jack knew where to go for a rare Stephon Marbury jersey, and Spitz came through. As time goes on, there’s no good reason to think more big-name celebrities won’t keep popping up at the growing business.
If you think Mr. Throwback’s shop is wild, you should see his collection at home. Instead of casual wear and suits, Spitz’s closet is full of NBA jerseys, Starter jackets, and sweatpants.
“My closet keeps getting bigger and bigger. My wife keeps asking me, ‘what the heck are you doing?’” Spitz said. “My entire closet is filled with jerseys. Any other kind of casual shirts are in drawers, not to be seen.” Spitz laughed. “You would think suit shirts, button downs, dress pants… Nope, jerseys.”
When a sick Allen Iverson pro-cut jersey—or anything else that sparks Spitz’s desire to buy—visits the store, it’s almost impossible for him to put a price tag on it and put it up for sale. “It’s hard when people come in to sell us stuff, and I’m tempted to keep it,” said Spitz. “I think to myself, oh man, I need this piece.”
Another article of vintage-wear Spitz is very passionate about are his sneakers—the Jordan brand to be exact. Numerous Jordans are scattered around the shop, on full display. On the left side of the store, above a full rack of vintage items, lays a few pairs of original Michael Jordan sneakers from 1985-1999. Jordans have always been Spitz’s favorite brand.
“I’ve been wearing Jordans since I was a kid,” he said. “I love the original pairs, with the Air Jordan logo on the back. In the 1990’s, it was only Jordans. No Kobe [Bryant sneakers], no LeBron [James sneakers]. Everybody had Jordans,” he finished.
Paulo DaCruz, 28, has been working at the shop for two years and has enjoyed every minute of it. DaCruz—a Tyson Chandler look-alike—met Michael Spitz through selling sneakers.
“I used to hook Mike [Spitz] up with sneakers,” DaCruz said. “Working for and with Mike [Spitz] is awesome; it’s like working with a close friend.”
Other than being such a successful store in New York, how does the company promote itself? Mr. Throwback show off dozens of items on a weekly basis to its 70 thousand plus Instagram followers. When people see it, they want it.
“It’s all about the picture,” Michael Spitz recalls. “Fans need to see the memorabilia, not hear that we have the it on Twitter, per se.”
Nowadays, social media is like water; everyone must have it to survive. Mr. Throwback surely took advantage of that need by gaining plenty of sales by way of social media.
To the surprise of many customers, there’s more to the shop than just vintage wear. It’s the great ideas owner Michael Spitz implements to make customers come back after dropping a boatload of cash on unique gear. Next time you walk in there, check out the price tag on almost any item. Spitz applies a baseball/basketball card as the price tag, to add some old-school flavor to an item. He even tries to match the jersey and card with the player the clothing represents. A mini-TV playing a VHS tape of Michael Jordan’s Space Jam caresses the room, to feel like you’re back in 1996. The mini-basketball hoop standing out front is a new addition the customers love. Not only can it be seen from all the way down East 9th Street, but if you ask, Spitz will give you the opportunity to drain a shot for a discount.
In a recent collaboration with SLAM and Starter, Mr. Throwback’s business grew beyond its barriers. A limited edition snapback hat has been released with the SLAM logo on the front, Starter logo on the back, and the “Mr. Throwback logo” on one side. The words “Respect the Game” are stitched on the other side of the cap. Now trademarked, Spitz hopes to launch a “Mr. Throwback” brand in the coming years.
The sky’s the limit for the shop. The celebrities and customers will come and go, but the
throwback nostalgia will live on forever.
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