Finding old threads new homes
Worn crewnecks and old 90’s tees with pop graphics and dated logos hang on metal racks. Old faded denim is folded and stacked on neighboring shelves. Classic ‘80s and ‘90s figures like Danny Glover, NBA slam dunk contest winner Spud Webb and Mike Tyson, along with movie posters from “Ghostbusters” and “Pitch Black,” hang on the walls to complete Plattsburgh Vintage’s aesthetic.
Michael Parent, the owner and sole employee of Plattsburgh Vintage, sits at the checkout counter eager to see who will walk in next to search out the perfect new piece for their wardrobe.
A pair of classic red and white Jordan 1s with black swooshes Parent painted and styled rests on top of a cabinet as a display piece. Old baseball cards wallpaper the store. Parent collected them as a child. In the back, he features twelve to thirteen local artists and consistently rotates work.
“I wanted to give local artists, especially students I went to school with and people from the area, a space to hang their art,” Parent says.
He began stockpiling retro clothing in a compact 10’x12’ bedroom in his college apartment, while attending The State University of New York at Plattsburgh. In 2017, Parent had an online business reselling attire. Each stack of clothing was organized by article. Still, the piles and heaps slowly took control of his room, reaching as high as his bed frame and confining his movements to a single clear path.
At any given time, Parent had about 250 garments. He frequently bought from auction sites like eBay and Depop. This began in 2016 when he was a freshman. Since then, he has graduated, opened a store and profited off of the vintage clothing trend.
The resale trade on second-hand clothing is expected to hit $64 billion in market value within the next five year, according to ThredUP, a second-hand retailer. It is outpacing fast fashion, the traditional production method for mass-market retailers.
For Parent, second-hand clothes are wearable nostalgia. His first piece of vintage clothing was a gift from his uncle, Fran Parent, back in 2010. It was a “Steal Your Face Off” Grateful Dead hockey T-shirt from the late ‘90s or early 2000s, he says. The original price of the shirt was $50. It has since tripled in value to $150. The trend grew as it reached mainstream artists like rapper Playboi Carti, who posted a picture wearing the shirt on Instagram.
But, he couldn’t consider selling it after his uncle passed away from cancer.
“Getting that T-shirt and holding onto it, it was never one I was going to sell,” Parent says. “That kind of snowballed into me collecting vintage or thrifting.”
This was the start of Parent’s love for hunting and upcycling clothes.
“A lot of time is spent going to thrift stores… and constantly searching for that next piece. I think that bonds people together,” Parent says. “There is that shared experience of going in and most times coming out without anything. So when you do find something, you want to show everyone else.”
With so much inventory built up from years of selling online, Parent says, the next logical step was to open a retail space, but the timing wasn’t ideal.
In May of 2020, during the early months of the pandemic, while Parent was working remotely in Burlington for a Plattsburgh nonprofit, about half of New York businesses faced temporary closures according to the Census Bureau.
He went back and forth on whether he should open. He was especially worried about having to close his shop soon after its launch. But when shutdowns started nationwide, a lot of people started selling vintage clothing online.
“The market got flooded really quickly,” Parent says.
He wasn’t deterred by the climate. He had just earned his bachelor’s degree in management information systems from SUNY Plattsburgh, and he grew up with two working parents running their family’s business, the Chazy Homestead, a local restaurant.
Parent bussed tables at the restaurant after school. He watched his parents work full-time managing the eatery while also working other jobs. His mom, Belinda Soucia, was a director of energy services for a nonprofit, while his dad, Dan Parent, was a counselor at the Clinton County Correctional Facility.
“You can’t be one foot in, one foot out,” Parent says. This was the lesson he learned from his parents. “Seeing them working 40 hours a week plus another 40 at the restaurant, I learned that if you’re going to own a business, it’s all-in in terms of being there.”
He carried that attitude with him when he opened Plattsburgh Vintage in October 2020 on 131 Cornelia St. Despite the tough economy, he felt as prepared as he could be.
“I was nervous, especially opening during the pandemic,” he says. “That was kind of my biggest fear, but it was more like a calculated risk. Opening any businesses is a risk, but it was something that Plattsburgh hadn’t had yet.”
Taking after his mom and dad, Parent tackles more than his fair share of duties as an owner. Monday through Wednesday, he’s searching for clothes in local thrift shops or from vintage resellers online. Thursday through Saturday, he’s running the shop.
Workwear like Carhartt, Dickies and denim sell especially well, Parent says. Bootcut and flared jeans, as well as bright, vibrant colors, are making a comeback.
“And I think it’s the material, too. A lot of the stuff in here is just cotton T-shirts with a cool print on it. It’s not that it’s some crazy high-tech blend,” Parent says. “It’s probably been washed hundreds or thousands of times already.”
A lot of vintage clothes are in rough shape. Some have holes. Others are discolored or are nearly in tatters. But those are the wrinkles vintage collectors can appreciate. To them, imperfections tell stories.
In February, a vintage reseller showed Parent an original Nirvana concert T-shirt.
“It was something I never expected to hold in my hands,” he says. “They’re super rare and desirable pieces.”
The seller went back and forth on whether he would part ways with the tee. The piece was sentimental, but he ultimately decided to sell.
“You almost relive the experience of being at the shows,” Parent says. “Like Grateful Dead tees, they’re always ripped apart or have holes. It’s like, ‘Wow, I can’t imagine what that’s been through, knowing the culture around those kinds of things’.”
After keeping the Nirvana tee in his personal collection, Parent has decided to put it up for sale at $600. Hearing the stories behind clothes is enjoyable but selling and sharing those stories ensure they live on, he says.
For Parent, vintage clothing symbolizes Gen Z principles, which value sustainable lifestyles and sticking out from the crowd.
“I think it comes down to rejecting fast fashion and some of the practices that some companies are using like child labor and overworking,” he says. “With vintage, a lot of it is one-of-a-kind pieces. You’re not going to see someone else wearing the same shirt as you. So there’s an individual side of it with people using style as a way to express themselves.”
Expression is a big part of vintage clothing, Parent says, and he carries that into his business. A cardboard sign with “BLM” written in black sharpie hangs proudly above the register.
Just like the clothing in his store, that sign has a story of its own, too. Parent wants customers to know what he and his business are about. They’re one and the same.
Plattsburgh Vintage is a work in progress, and Parent is just getting started. Sooner or later, he would like to move his store closer to downtown, where he can host musicians and create a community hub centered around vintage clothing. A trend Parent believes will always have an audience among thrifters and will grow as it becomes more mainstream.
“Vintage is still going to be relevant,” he says.
Patrons can visit Plattsburgh Vintage, which will soon be moving to 20 Brinkerhoff St.,Thursday through Sunday during its hours between 11:30 and 7 p.m. The shop provides vintage clothing while also serving as a local art gallery. SUNY Plattsburgh students who wish to purchase clothing may use cardinal cash to do so.
Story by Fernando Alba