Broadway’s Red Light Burns Out

Jessie+Koon++%E2%80%A2++The+Spectator

Jessie Koon • The Spectator

Jessie Koon  •  The Spectator
Jessie Koon • The Spectator

For 15 years the Red Light Vintage and Costume store on Broadway has served the Capitol Hill community’s need for funky, vintage-inspired and retro clothing. It has been a popular destination for visiting tourists and Seattle University students alike, and was even featured in Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” music video.

But according to one of the store’s managers, the locally-owned business will close sometime this February because higher rents have displaced the shop’s most loyal customers, negatively impacting the store’s sales.

The appearance of “closing sale” signs on the store windows has dismayed many, especially those with quirky, creative and unconventional fashion preferences. For some, Red Light has been an integral aspect of their wardrobe for years, such as for Seattle native and Seattle U senior Katherine Cole.

“I go there once a month at least just to check it out,” Cole said.

Cole has always enjoyed wearing vintage clothing and she visited the shop for the first time in high school at the suggestion of a friend. During that trip, Cole spent nearly three hours exploring all the nooks and crannies of the store.

Now whenever Cole needs dresses, tights, hats, accessories or other vintage items, Red Light is one of the first places she visits, and she is disheartened by news of its closing.

“Red Light is like going into a time machine,” Cole said. “They have all their dresses and areas labeled [by era]…and they’re fairly accurate about how they date things.”

Many Seattle vintage fans would echo Cole’s sentiment about Red Light’s quality and authenticity. The store has won ten awards since its establishment, including the 2012 Seattle Weekly’s Reader’s Choice Best Indie Clothing Store and the The Stranger’s Best Clothing Named After a Famous District in 2002.

While not every Seattle U student visits the shop as often as Cole, some students fondly recall Red Light as part of their initial memories of college.

“I think it may have been the first shop I visited on Broadway,” said junior international business major Dylan Miyasaki.

Miyasaki visited the shop as freshman with his orientation adviser Robert Gavino and their small group.

“There was a lot of stuff that I would probably never see anywhere else…Red Light is kind of an iconic thrift store,” Miyasaki said.

While both Miyasaki and Cole noted that Red Light tends to have pricier items than other thrift stores such as Value Village, its wide selection of unique items make it worth visiting. Cole added that locals especially appreciate stores such as Red Light because Seattleites tend to have a fashion sense that merges old pieces with current trends.

Because of the city’s unique fashion scene, Cole is hopeful that another consignment shop will inhabit the empty space that Red Light leaves behind. It is not clear yet what will replace the space. Regardless of the future tenants, Cole knows Seattle’s thrift store culture will be heavily impacted and that many people will be disappointed.

“[Red Light] was the hub of the consignment stores,” she said.

Senior criminal justice major Brionna Jordan also expressed disappointment about news of the shop closing. While she only explored the shop once last year to look for a Halloween costume, she was very excited about the store’s unique vintage feel, and regrets not visiting it more often.

Beyond the contents of the shop, many people will also miss its qualities of acceptance and diversity. Red Light Vintage and Costume has always been a major part of Seattle’s eclectic culture; it has supported artists and musicians and sponsored floats in the city’s Pride Parade. Their culture of acceptance is evident in the way they run their business.

“One of the things I’ll miss the most is that…they always have this diverse atmosphere around them,” Cole said. “Like if somebody wants to crossdress or somebody is transgender, then you are more than welcome to go in there and look beautiful.”

While the store’s closing is bad news for residents of the Hill, fortunately the online store at redlightvintage.com as well as the Red Light University District location will continue to operate. And in the meantime, Capitol Hill residents can shop Red Light Broadway’s liquidation sale, which will continue until the store closes in February.

Melissa may be reached at [email protected]spectator.com