By Andy Yamashita, UW News Lab/Special to CHS
Walk east on Pike, just past 12th Ave and you might miss it.
Tucked away in a small storefront, you can tell you’ve found Throwbacks Northwest from the black door covered in stickers and all the Seattle Supersonics memorabilia that hangs in the window. The sign hanging off the beige building is hard to see if you aren’t sure what to look for.
But for people involved in the streetwear, deadstock, and vintage collection communities, the shop is the stuff of legends.
“A lot of people come here and they ask if we’re hiring,” Shane Cloud, an employee at the store said. “But, it’s kind of like — you get asked to work here, you don’t ask to work here.”
Throwbacks Northwest, owned by Rialto “Rio” Estolas, is currently in its tenth year of business and has been the center for a niche group of people looking for unique ways to express their own style and represent Seattle. They are drawn to the shop because, as Estolas and Cloud say, they offer more than just shoes, snapbacks, and sweatshirts.
“We don’t necessarily sell clothes,” Cloud said. “We sell nostalgia. A lot of this is memories — special memories you know. People remember that game they went to with their dad, and maybe their dad has passed away now. Or they grew up playing Little League and they remember watching Ken Griffey Jr. play.”
Throwbacks Northwest is most famous for selling deadstock — the products of a bygone era that have never been sold and are no longer in production by its original makers, according to Estolas. Deadstock is still considered new and implies perfect condition with no wear.
“You never know what you’re going to find,” Stone Seifried, a customer who’s been coming to the store since 2014, said. “There’s always a cool different new piece. You look anywhere and there’s something tight.”
Due to the varying levels of value, prices and revenue can have a huge range. T-shirts for example, can cost anywhere from $20 to $200 depending on the rarity, condition, and availability. A yellow hoodie featuring a black and white picture of Kurt Cobain was listed around $70 because there were only 24 made. Cloud and Estolas estimate that the average item is about $40.
Most of the stuff sold at Throwbacks Northwest is found by Estolas, Cloud, or one of the buyers who knows the type of clothes they are looking for. They will also occasionally feature a local brand or order a commission to help grow their own name. But the last major source of their products comes from regular people, who sell them a mix of jerseys, hats, and anything else the pair thinks would interest their customers.
“After being here so long, being in this game, a lot of people do reach out,” Estolas said. “Starting out, it was a lot of hunting down stuff, but now a lot of people do come in and bring stuff in for sure. We try to be fair with everybody.”
For both Estolas and Cloud, reputation is what got them this job. The original owner, Mark Musgrave, founded the boutique in 2008. He decided to leave Throwbacks Northwest to focus on his other store in 2016, but he knew his successor had to have the same trustworthy reputation.
So Musgrave turned to Estolas, who at the time was running his own small boutique called Officials Vintage just down the street. Born in the Bay Area but raised in Seattle, both his father and sister also sold vintage items, and Estolas started in the business back in 2003 when he was selling streetwear out of his car as a side hustle.
Musgrave’s offer was the perfect opportunity for Estolas to make his passion his livelihood. But when he became a part-owner of All Star Vintage in Tacoma in 2018, he knew he needed someone to take care of Throwbacks NW when he couldn’t be there.
Enter Cloud, who Estolas knew through mutual friends. A self-proclaimed sneakerhead, or shoe collector, and native Seattleite, he got his start online by selling extra pieces of his collections on Ebay to make a little extra money. Cloud knew about Throwbacks, and when Estolas offered him the job, he accepted.
Together, the duo has expanded the scope of the store. While it initially gained local fame for its selection of vintage and deadstock sportswear, specifically for Seattle-based teams like the Sonics, Mariners, and Seahawks in particular, the shop now features memorabilia from across the country.
This shift away from Seattle gear is a reflection of their customer base according to Estolas, who believes most of his customers these days are not from the area, unlike when Throwbacks Northwest opened back in 2008. Now, a decent percentage of his business comes from tourists who want to buy souvenirs from the Emerald City, or transplants who want to represent their original hometown.
“It’s always been a big city,” Cloud said. “Maybe there was more of a community back then. People knew each other a little better. There wasn’t as many strangers, you felt more connected to your neighbors. Now it’s like people moving in, moving out — new apartment buildings going up, new little restaurants that will only be here for a year and then they’re gone. A lot of this stuff is temporary now, back then it felt like it was a lot more real.”
And Throwbacks Northwest is changing too. Estolas hopes to move away from purely selling sportswear, though the shop will continue to sell vintage and deadstock. He also wants to continue building the store’s brand through collaborations and other promotional events.
No matter how his customers or products change, he said he hopes to maintain his reputation for providing a space where people can immerse themselves in their passion for style, whether they rep Seattle or not.
“I’ve never wanted to have that store that was too cool,” Estolas said. “I want everyone to feel welcome to come in the shop. There’s some streetwear stores that can be kind of intimidating for somebody. It’s like the cool guys are outside, and it’s not comfortable for the mom and the kid to come in. So we want to make sure it’s safe for everybody.”
The University of Washington News Lab gives advanced journalism students an opportunity to build a dynamic clip portfolio by reporting for any of 70 client news outlets in the greater Seattle area. CHS is proud to work with young journalists and feature their work. You can learn more here.
SUBSCRIBE TO CHS: Summer brings busy days! Subscribers help pay for the writers and photographers who provide CHS's daily news coverage. We need to get our numbers back up to pay the bills! Join TODAY to become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month to help CHS provide community news with NO PAYWALL. You can also sign up for a one-time annual payment. Why support CHS? More here.