Scottsdale couple opening vintage clothing store near downtown Phoenix

Posted By Mike Padgett

Feb. 8, 2009

PHOENIX, Ariz. – A husband-and-wife team’s passion for business, which was successful in their first venture in Chicago, is ready to soar again. This time, they will open their doors on Valentine’s Day in their restored warehouse south of downtown Phoenix.

Their first business was a home run. Steve and Andi Rosenstein started their Fitigues brand of upscale casual clothing in Chicago in 1988 with little more than $500 and a sweatshirt. In 2007, this mid-forty-something couple sold the company to a national retailer. They stayed on for a year as consultants and also bought a luxury home in Scottsdale.

Since their purchase of their historic building in 2007 just south of downtown Phoenix, the Rosensteins have been gearing up for a new venture. Grand opening for their R&R Surplus is Feb. 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., in their warehouse at 525 S. Central Ave. They plan to have their Web site, www.R&, operating by Feb. 18.

Walking into their red brick warehouse, you will see a few racks or bins of freshly washed vintage clothing. Several have freshwater pearls sewn onto them in fleur-de-lis designs by seamstress Jennifer Eng.

Their vintage American clothing includes Champion sweatshirts, many with collegiate logos. They date back a decade or more to a time when sweats were heavier, softer and more durable. The Rosensteins also plan to offer original 501 Levis.

The Rosensteins have a network of sources in California who deal in used sporting goods. Early this month, they spent a weekend scouring through bins of dirty clothes in Los Angeles warehouses.

“They’re in bins, big piles,” Steve says. “It’s a real experience. I just dive in, and then go take a good shower when I’m done.”

They also have a contact in Europe who provides them with a selection of military surplus clothing and bags from France and other countries.

Some of the vintage clothes and leathers salvaged from California and Europe now are hanging in R&R Surplus. Others are folded and stacked neatly on carts and dollies reclaimed from construction sites, warehouses or railroad stations.

Steve says his and Andi’s inspirations are rooted in the building’s history. It dates to 1928. It has been used as a Ford dealership and a beer distributor’s warehouse. The Rosensteins search for inspiration in their building, listening to its whispers. They sit at the bar they bought from a Chicago antiques dealer, who says it was salvaged from the original Black Orchid Club on Rush Street.

Despite decelerating local and national market conditions, the Rosensteins believe their new business will be helped by the ongoing downtown redevelopment projects, such as Arizona State University’s downtown campus, the new light rail system, the expanded Phoenix Convention Center, and the new 1,000 room, 31-story Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel. And just south of the convention center are Chase Field and US Airways Center and their lineups of sports events, conventions and other attractions.

Steve says the designs for the upscale casual clothing he and Andi created for the first company, Fitigues, were inspired by vintage athletic concepts, with a hint of a military look.

He picks up a vintage university sweatshirt. While used, with maybe a worn spot on the neck or cuffs, the fabric thickness and the tailoring are more substantial than found on many similar products on the market today.

“Feel this,” he says. “It’s the heavy, original Champion, made in the USA, reverse weave sweatshirt that make every guy in my generation say, ‘Wow.’”

Steve refolds the shirt and places it back on the stack. “So we’re going out and finding this, and we’re reclaiming it. Then we’ve got to do our thing to it – we’ve got to recycle it, wash it, it’s pretty neat.”

He stopped at a rack of shirts and pulled one out. “This is a French military training T-shirt that was made back in the ‘40s and ‘50s that we find. I pick up fabric like this and think, ‘You could never make that.’ And when you feel this cotton, it was handmade in Europe back in the ‘30s and ‘40s. It feels like Armani, to me.”

Many of today’s shirts lack the tailoring and durability of clothes made decades ago. They are much lighter, and they are made from simpler designs with less detailing and fewer pieces.

Scouting for vintage clothing is time consuming and labor intensive. It means locating companies that collect used clothing for resale or recycling. It means diving into bins of dirty clothes and picking through them. A facemask is advisable, followed by a shower.

“This is a labor of love,” Steve says. “We’re finding this stuff in warehouses in France, all over the place. All over the world.”

Andi says: “We have traveled extensively and rummaged through lots of warehouses, hand selecting each of these genuine, vintage, reissued and often handcrafted items.”

The Rosensteins hire local seamstresses to add antique buttons or beads or custom embroidery to some of the vintage clothes or military bags. Andi says her favorite finds include a 1929 French ammunition bag, now decorated with vintage crystal rosettes; 1950s sweatshirts embellished with vintage jewelry; and reissued thermal undershirts “like the ones we used to buy at the local surplus store.”

Steve moves to a rack of new tennis shoes with the PF Flyer brand. “And if it’s not reclaimed, it’s a brand that feels reclaimed. These are PF Flyers, something that we grew up with. The original PF. These are back out again; they’re owned by New Balance. New Balance has bought them and brought them back to life.”

Among his racks of vintage clothing are two tandem bicycles. The Rosensteins have helped start a bicycling club called the Retro Riders. The club has 30 members. They meet twice monthly at R&R Surplus. The club’s $5 monthly dues pay for the Pabst and Schlitz enjoyed after the neighborhood cruises.

Steve moved on to a smaller rack of reclaimed U.S. military pants. Next to it was a bin of reclaimed military boots. And then a bin of bags, which could be reused as book bags, diaper bags or all-around travel bags.

“Talk about sustainability, that’s an original French backpack,” Steve says. “Bags are going to be a big business for us.”

Steve continues walking. “This stuff is all true French military surplus. See, it’s still got the original name. And then we’ll take a guy’s tank top and Jen over there will embroider it.”

He picks up a pair of heavy-duty long underwear originally designed for the French military. He says the thick underwear is ideal for women’s workout or yoga clothing. With a tank top and an American baseball cap, “that’s a great look,” Steve says.

He moves on. He reaches into a bin and pulls out a vintage French document case. It looks like it could hold a laptop computer. He sets it down and reaches in for something else. “These are great. This is an old Hungarian rucksack.”

“And these are great,” he says, moving to another rack. “These are old British postal sweaters, what the guys at the post office used to wear. I saw that and thought that’s Ralph Lauren Black Label.”

At a rack of European leather jackets, Steve stopped. “I love these. This is from Italy. We’ve got Italian, we’ve got French. This is an old original Italian bomber jacket. Feel this.”

The leathers will be sold at a per-pound price, instead of a per-piece price, “like you’re buying it from the butcher” to give the buyers “that old-market feel,” he says.

Steve adds that much of the store’s vintage clothing business will be via Internet orders. “That’s going to be the main part of the business, until the full project is up and running and people are coming down here to eat and drink and have breakfast and coffee.”

Their goal by late 2009 is to have all the needed permits for a breakfast cereal bar with a screen showing original Saturday morning cartoons and programs, an organic hot dog stand, and a small coffee shop with an antique bar imported from Springfield, Ohio.

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Feb 8th, 2009

One Comment to 'Scottsdale couple opening vintage clothing store near downtown Phoenix'

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  1. What an amazing commitment to Sustainability! Bravo! The Rosensteins have recycled everything from the building to the furniture and fixtures to the merchandise. This should be the model for all future retail concepts. Just think if the national chains followed suit. People might actually start shopping again.
    It’s kind of scary to be the first to open in a new (or in this case old) district or project. Let’s hope they get some company soon. Bold commitments change the world. I think we’re ready for more. I am!

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