A First-Timer’s Guide to Thrifting on the Ave
Find everything from flapper dresses to Dragon Ball Z action figures 👗
July 28, 2022
Where do Seattle’s local hotties find their crushed velvet bell bottoms or saucy little Y2K hip huggers or rare Japanese city pop records?
Probably the University District’s vintage scene.
Good vintage shops serve all of Seattle (even our favorite island, West Seattle), but there’s a ripe selection over in the U District. Up and down The Ave—and just a few streets over—you can find good quality and unique clothes, records, video games, and movies from every era. Since its beginnings as a rail trolley line in the late 1800s, The Ave has thrived as a commercial strip and Seattle’s first “city within a city.” To this day, that moniker still feels true because of these shopping staples. Let’s explore.
📸: Red Light Vintage
Red Light Vintage
4560 University Way NE
Red Light Vintage has been the spot for buying Halloween costumes in Seattle since it opened in 1996. When the spooky season rolls around, Red Light stocks its shelves with your standard costume fare: sexy nurse, sexy WWI veteran, sexy consumption patient, etc. But what sets this shop apart is its year-round vintage collection of from-the-era clothes. Want to be a flapper? Check out the stuff from the 1920s. Got Saturday Night Fever? The tags on those bell-bottoms will tell you whether or not those pants remember the Patty Hearst kidnapping.
Think: Racks filled with any funky collared shirt you could dream of. Soft corduroy shorts from the ’80s. Jackets upon jackets. An entire section devoted to dresses packed so tightly it’s an arm workout to sift through them.
If you’re trying to sell vintage or vintage-inspired clothes, you can do so at Red Light every day from 11 am to 5 pm by appointment. Seller beware, all buying stops during the Halloween season.
Al's Music & Video Games
4547 University Way NE
Right across the street from Red Light, you’ll spot the nearly 50-year-old Al’s Music & Video Games by its massive sign that announces they “BUY ANYTHING OF ENTERTAINMENT VALUE.” (There’s a manga girl painted on the sign. It’s hard to miss.) Step inside, and you’re in a long room bursting with vinyl, cassettes, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, manga, rare newspapers, tiny little action figures, etcetera etcetera. A little long-haired chihuahua might be running around. It’s a weirdo paradise.
One of Al’s big selling points is that they sell vintage gaming consoles. Refurbished Xboxes, Playstations, Ataris, Game Boy Colors—they catch ’em all. Grab a console then sift through the games for your new system. Another unique draw to Al’s is the size of their Japanese vintage, from Urusei Yatsura VHS tapes to original city pop classics on vinyl. And their record collection is extensive. They’ve got your classic rock, disco, and hip hop collections, but they also have fresh video game and anime soundtracks on vinyl. For sellers: Pop in daily from 11 am to 9 pm to sell for trade or cash.
4742 University Way NE
Another gem on The Ave. Lucky’s clothing selection is smaller and a little pricier than Red Light’s, but it’s hard to walk out of Lucky without buying something. Maybe it’s a ’60s-era bowling jacket, a vintage University of Washington sweater, or a swanky red dress perfect for your uncle’s wedding. The atmosphere in Lucky is chiller and less chaotic than your typical thrift or vintage shop. The employees are sweet and chatty. (I recently eavesdropped on them discussing whether or not god exists.) Lucky is the sister store to Lucky Dry Goods in Ballard, but only this University District location buys things from sellers. They buy items 20 years old or older, anything from the 1800s through the Y2K era. They can also repair items you bring in which may have holes or wear. Walk in to sell on Mondays and Tuesdays from 12 to 6:30 pm or by appointment on other days. Sellers receive either 30% in cash or check or 50% in store credit.
Neptune Music Company
4344 Brooklyn Ave NE
Deep in the bowels under the famous Neptune Theater is a basement lined floor to ceiling with records and CDs called Neptune Music Company. This store has got its fair share of DVDs and VHSes, many of which totally engulf the cash register counter so it seems like the staff is working in a fort made of Shirley Temple specials and Die Hard movies. According to anecdotal data from the store’s staff, Neptune boasts the largest classical music collection in King County. We don’t have hard data to fact-check that, but it feels true. So please, if you’re looking for classical records, come take some off their hands. Neptune’s jazz collection isn’t anything to shake a stick at either. Piles and piles of jazz CDs and records cover the store’s back room.
5030 Roosevelt Way NE
Seattle’s last video store happens to be the largest physical media library in the world. The non-profit Scarecrow Video is truly a national treasure living right here in the University District. Its friendly staff is happy to show off the place’s 140,000+ titles—many of which are unstreamable. They’ve got movies from 129 countries and in around 126 languages, divided into different rooms, like the anime room or the mystery section. Get lost in the brightly colored rooms—two stories of them!—or ask someone behind the desk for help to find the right movie. The last time I went there they had a section devoted to Everything Everywhere All at Once star Michelle Yeoh.
Scarecrow is best for renting movies, but you can also buy new and vintage films in formats ranging from LaserDisc to Blu-ray, plus some Scarecrow-specific merchandise and film posters. Scarecrow is closed Mondays and open every other day from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., except Wednesdays when they stay open until 10 p.m. You can also rent any movie you want via mail.
Nathalie is a writer focused on anything she finds weird or fun. Sometimes this includes local politics and the environment, sometimes this involves scootering half-nude in Tacoma. She used to work as a staff writer at The Stranger where she did a lot of that sort of thing. She detests dentists and loves costume parties.