Back to the Future 

New vintage shop sells contemporary chic.

In the world of thrift, there are the casual devotees, and then there are the self-described junkers: collectors like Kristen Rutschman and Dale McNeil.

Rutschman and McNeil are co-owners of Light Years Vintage, a store on South Cooper near Nelson that opened last November. Both Memphis natives have experience in vintage clothing and, perhaps more importantly, the courage to go beyond the call of duty.

"We go everywhere: podunk towns, rag houses where you can buy by the pound," says McNeil. "And then there was that one time in Los Angeles."

The couple, following an Internet lead, found themselves at a suburban home.

"As soon as you stepped inside, the smell hit you, like something here is really wrong," says Rutschman. The homeowner had vintage clothes in her house, but she also had several hundred snakes.

The duo has dealt in vintage clothes for over six years after a trip to Japan (where a pair of vintage Levis can sell for $600) inspired them to try Internet sales. "We started out buying for clients overseas," says McNeil.

The couple considered opening a store in Los Angeles but found the market saturated and the real estate pricey. "Memphis, by comparison, didn't really have anything that was selling to the youth market," says McNeil. After the Cotton Exchange, a vintage store in Cooper-Young, closed last year, the couple felt there was a vintage void in Memphis.

The two acknowledge that there is some competition, but they are not worried. "We're trying to do something that is very different from the aesthetic of a store like Flashback, which has an older, very definite period feel," says Rutschman.

The store gives the couple a home base, but they still act as buyers for independent clients.

"There are certain items we have that wouldn't sell in Memphis. This isn't the kind of town where you can sell a T-shirt for $400," says Rutschman. However, they encourage customers to make requests because of their experience in acquiring specialty vintage items.

Light Years features a wide selection of clothes and accessories, but specializes in vintage rock T-shirts. "The stuff that designers like Marc Jacobs and Chloe are selling is basically borrowed from exactly the kind of stuff we have, except we charge one-tenth the price of designer clothes," says McNeil. "Plus, if our stuff has lasted 30 years, you know the quality has to be pretty good."

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