The Meat Market Vintage boutique in Tempe, AZ is a hole in the wall of particular note. There’s perhaps no other shop of its kind – until you broach California territory – that deals exclusively in vintage clothing & accessories. Virtually anything you pull off the rack has been in rotation for 20 years, a niche selling point few other retailers can reciprocate.
We recently had a chance to sit down and talk shop with Meat Market Vintage owner, Ben Funke.
Stchd: Thanks for taking some time out to chat with us.
Ben: Welcome to my lair.
Stchd: How did you get started and what was your inspiration to start collecting vintage clothes?
Ben: I think it actually just happened as a byproduct of being on eBay. It kind of uh, you know, different things coming together – different interests of mine coming together. I was on eBay selling random junk. I think initially when I got involved I was buying “care bear” stuff, sheets and stuff like that. I think for a while I was just selling weird stuff like that. I saw the potential.
Stchd: So you started online before you actually had a shop?
Ben: Oh yeah, I mean, back in 2000 I was starting to list things on eBay.
Stchd: Were you buying things with the intent to resell them?
Ben: Maybe not initially, it was more just personal stuff or selling extra stuff. But it quickly became a little operation. Some of those [eBay] photos are terribly embarrassing for me and the models. The Meat Market has utilized models since its conception.
Stchd: Yeah, I think I’ve recognized a few of them online.
Ben: Yeah, now you would recognize them from the street but I used to ask waitresses and random girls to model.
“There’s an infinite amount of things that go into picking clothes.”
Stchd: How long has the shop actually been here?
Ben: This is actually right around the one year anniversary.
Stchd: Is there anything going on for the anniversary?
Ben: Yeah, I’ll have some kind of event.
Stchd: Which reminds me – just recently you did ‘First Friday’?
[Every first Friday evening of every month, crowds take self-guided tours of downtown Phoenix galleries, studios and art spaces.]
Ben: The New Times got me set up on that. I used to go to ‘First Friday’ all the time back when Modified Arts was one of the hubs for it, many many years ago. I might be one of the problems now… just the whole carnival atmosphere. There’s just not a ton of places where people congregate in Phoenix in open areas. Even though it’s totally changed directions, the underground artists used to be the main focus.
Now there’s really young, high school, kids that are down there. And sometimes Revolver will have some decent bands playing down there.
Stchd: Do you have a method or process of picking out clothes to showcase in your shop?
Ben: That’s the part that makes each vintage store unique, who’s doing the picking. Some of it is based off of the knowledge of what is collectable. Certain things have inherent value, other things it’s really about stylistically being on the same page as your customers. Some people have a preference over different shops depending on what pieces you bring in. I get “pickers” that come in from other cities and I’ve actually gotten some pretty good feedback from them. A lot of the stuff I have here is congruent to what they have at their shops.
Stchd: What’s a picker?
Ben: People go on buying trips, there’s huge markets for this stuff either in the coastal regions or there’s even a huge market with Japanese buyers or international buyers that, you know, everything gets filtered up to the top to the main buyer.
I have buyers come in that buy items I have at retail price and then double the price or whatever. I’ve also become more and more educated on looking for certain details – things I can sell easily. I can find ten button down pearl snap cowboy shirts, but there’s even subtle things. There’s an infinite amount of things that go into picking clothes.
“That’s the part that makes each vintage store unique, who’s doing the picking.”
Stchd: How much do you have at your warehouse?
Ben: I have about double of what you see here in the store at my house. I do have a lot of stuff off site.
Stchd: How has business been throughout your first year having a shop?
Ben: There’s a whole category of people that don’t like to wear old clothing. There’s people that associate vintage with more costume-y kind of stuff. It’s an era where niche markets aren’t really what you want to do, where you can have an online store with no overhead and an endless stream of traffic over the Internet.
Stchd: Do you have a diverse clientele?
Ben: I’d say, being through this first year, you see a lot of different people come in. I find that people in their 30’s or older tend to be more into the older stuff or even more into the higher end old dresses. If you’re someone who’s worn vintage for a while you start to explore different things or whatever…
“It’s an era where niche markets aren’t really what you want to do.”
Stchd: Is there a thing that sets you apart from some of these other places?
Ben: Yeah, I’m the one shop in Tempe that’s exclusively vintage. Even accessories here. I mean, you go to Buffalo Exchange and you’re standing in the checkout line and you’re surrounded by these cheap sunglasses and trinkets. That stuff makes a lot of money and it’s something I could easily do. I’m just not into it.
Just add-on stuff. Vintage stores in the valley, you know… I don’t know what the longest one is, but none of them have like, a super great track record. Actually, Blue Jean Buyer in Scottsdale, I think he’s been there for 17 years or something. His focus is more on denim and he obviously has something established. You put a lot of heart and soul and energy into a shop and it ends up not being sustainable over time.
“… you’re surrounded by these cheap sunglasses and trinkets. That stuff makes a lot of money and it’s something I could easily do, I’m just not into it.”
Stchd: Where did you get the name ‘The Meat Market’?
My friend Danny and I were driving down the freeway and saw a carniceria meat market thing. I kind of liked the name because it was provocative. Just the idea of – you know, when you go into a bar and everyone’s dressed up – they call it a ‘meat market’. That kind of concept, double meaning. Putting yourself on display. It also just has a nice ring to it.
Stchd: Where do you see the store going in 2-3 years?
Ben: Well, I have another year on my lease here. And I did just make another kind of commitment: a custom neon sign that will fit exactly in this window.
Stchd: What does the sign say?
Ben: It says, “Cool Clothes”.
Stchd: Certainly gets the point across.