Trading cards, Hello Kitty, Star Wars, Pokémon, plushies, dead media, movie memorabilia, comics, Jones Soda and candy cigarettes are just a few things you’ll find in your adventure around Retro Emporium in historic downtown Kent.
I moseyed in on a sunny Friday afternoon to meet up with Owner, Anne Smith to present her with some great news. Her bicycling Kermit the Frog and summer themed storefront had won our Standout Window Display Contest. The campaign was an effort to celebrate re-opening, but also to welcome back our community who had been holed up for so long due to Covid.
If you are going to shop, this is fantastic place start. One step into the store, you are enveloped in the sweet scent of Fruit Loops and secretly wish there was pull up bar to pour yourself a bowl.
You journey in the way-back machine (que the oohing and aaaaaing) takes you through an incredible collection of 80s and 90s pop culture. Warning: joy bubbles are going to surface, along with the childhood you and a nice little skip down memory lane.
The Retro Emporium specializes in retro and vintage products featuring a little bit of everything including records, VHS, T-shirts, toys, movies, candy, trading cards, jewelry, stuff animals and tons more cool stuff.
The business started by selling online and vending at trade shows and conventions with a 10×10 booth space. She began with hand crafting and upcycling items; gradually adding items that went along with her theme; trading cards being one of the first big attention grabbers. Becoming known as “Trading Card Girl”, she’d blow through hundreds of packs at shows and knew she was onto something.
While conventions were successful, Anne was growing tired of packing and unpacking items every weekend. The shop offered an opportunity to not only provide a broader assortment of goods, but also made it easier to source inventory as she could also store it.
One of the more unique items in her store is the Michael Jordan “Wings” late 90’s poster. Mounted on foam core, it was rescued by a friend from a downtown Seattle Nike store dumpster. Sorry folks, it’s not for sale.
Some of Anne’s childhood favorites were Care Bears, Strawberry Short Cake and getting lost in books and 80’s movies. She and her husband enjoy watching movies and playing video games in their spare time, but her real passion and hobby is the store. She loves thrifting, networking with other toy show friends and searching for cool and unique stuff for the shop. It doesn’t feel like work.
There is much that gets missed in the retro/nostalgia genre, especially for women. We’ve all been to the dusty, dark, 2nd hand type spaces that seem to cater mostly to males. Retro Emporium is the exact opposite; its bright, airy and colorful, keeping the girls/women shoppers in mind with plush, ponies, jewelry, girlie stuff and hair scrunchies. Yes, hair scrunchies! Not to worry guys, Anne does a fantastic job of offering products in an organized, clean space that appeals to men, women and kids alike.
It’s hard to get around the negative impacts and unmeasurable scale of Covid. I asked her for an example of something positive as a result of Covid. Her answer was quick – time. Covid forced a slowdown, and like so many who live their lives at warp speed, what she needed was more time. She’d been so busy with life and work, tackling the “to-do’s” stacking up behind the scenes was becoming overwhelming.
Her business was doing well, but not so well that she could afford additional staff. The business was literally drowning her. In a strange way, the Covid shutdown offered her a sigh of relief and provided time to purge, organize and sort through the claustrophobic inventory piling up.
Fortunately, while Covid shut down the store, she was able to keep business floating through online sales. She used the extra time to take back control and regroup. The pandemic silver lining.
One of Anne’s favorite things about owning a business is the flexibility being the “boss” offers and the ability to engineer the business the way she wants it. Expansion is envisioned for the future, but Covid has put those plans on hold for now.
Anne found her place in historic Kent through another small business. She occasionally free-lanced in the back of their
store and after a while, she was convinced Kent would be best place to start their store.
Anne and her husband have lived in Kent for 10 years; the historic downtown still feels like a small community in-spite of being the 6th largest City in Washington State. For Anne, a small-town feel, the diversity and living only 5 minutes away made Historic Kent the perfect place to build her business.
We couldn’t agree more.
Find Retro Emporium in historic Kent at 328 W. Meeker Street, Kent. (253) 236-2145