Since opening in 2019, Retro Emporium in Kent has been a favorite stop in Kent for eclectic gifts, pop culture items, 80s rock music and Garbage Pail Kid cards (just to name a few) and for owner and operator Anne Smith, the little shop with orange-and-mint color walls is like a technicolor dream.
“It’s my first brick-and-mortar, I was on Etsy and a vendor at conventions,” said Smith. “My dream was always to open a physical store.”
And now, Retro Emporium is on a four-year winning streak with the Best of Kent, thanks to locals voting it as the winner of four awards: “Best Consignment/Thrift Store”, “Best Gift Store”, “Best Clothing/Shoe Store” and “Best Family Entertainment”, beating out AMC Theater and Kent Bowl bowling alley. Retro is also a runner-up for “Best Jewelry Store” and “Best Hobby/Craft Store.”
A time trip even before you step foot inside, Retro is filled with fun and unique things that help give the store its popularity – where else are you going to find “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” trading cards or foam-covered cassette players?
“A lot of different generations are coming in, they can all come together and it helps that retro stuff is popular again,” Smith said of her customers and their tastes, which range in age from about 15 to 40. Since we’re in October, Smith has plenty of horror and Halloween stuff up but she says that she actually ends up just keeping it up. “Halloween is a lifestyle for a lot of people,” she said.
Originally from Springfield, Oregon, Smith moved to Kent in 2010 with her husband, whose family is from the area. She has a degree in journalism and advertising but has mostly worked in retail.
“I spent 10 or 15 years at music shops and I was a manager at FYE so I thought, ‘go with what you know’,” Smith said about having her own pop culture shop.
With Retro, Smith sells items from her childhood in the 1980s and far beyond, with things that range as far back as 1930s, like classic Universal Monsters, to the 2010s, like with One Direction novelty items. “I can’t refer to our stuff as vintage exactly, so ‘retro’ helps broaden it,” Smith said. “Retro actually means things that are older than ten years and vintage things are getting harder to find.”
Retro also has a number of more modern items as she relies on her customer’s requests, especially when it comes to what anime is big right now or what vinyl records younger customers just have to have. “You can never go wrong with metal and rock but I try and tune into newer things, like Taylor Swift,” Smith said of the shop’s music section in the back. “I clean every single record that comes through.”
When it comes to her favorite items, Smith says she has a soft spot for Hello Kitty and stationery items. “I wanted something that felt like a Scholastic book fair and it turns out other people like that, too,” Smith said.
As for Retro’s intense popularity, Smith says that sometimes she gets recognized on the street and that she’s glad that Retro is being recognized by the community. “It makes me proud because I took this huge chance and I’m not a risk-taker so it is beyond whatever I set out to do,” said Smith.
Retro Emporium is located at 328 West Meeker Street in Kent and is open Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. and open from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.