Vintage and antique expert Kirk Albert migrated to the great Pacific Northwest from Detroit twelve years ago backed by a hypothesis: the Theory of Evolution would have to apply to Seattle's relative isolation. He says he goes by the Darwinian philosophy that the cultures that are most isolated develop creatively at a more accelerated pace because they are free from outside influences and left to their own devices. "I figure that you have to travel over two mountain ranges to get to where we are," Albert explains, "so the people here have to solve their own problems and create their own solutions. That's what inspires us to come up with a lot of great things."
Among those great things is Kirk Albert Vintage Furnishings, the Georgetown storefront where he has amassed an inspiring collection of quirky, eccentric, one-of-a-kind finds. Albert warns that many of the things in his gallery-like shop may provoke embarrassment, shock, or titilation, but he adds that customers' laughter is like "music to his ears" because it tells him that they understand the message he's trying to get across. We caught up with Albert to try to figure out just what that message might be.
What song or album is playing on your store’s sound system right now?
Albert: Anything by Alison Krauss. Her music is just so soulful and has a very authentic musical balance.
What was your first job in retail?
This was my first job, but at the beginning it was called 'Great Stuff Vintage Furnishings.' It was the same store, with the same ownership and ideals, but [about two years ago] we renamed it and tightened up the brand a little bit.
What is it about retail that attracts you?
Storytelling. I love telling the history of what I know about it, what I don't know. There's something wonderful about filling the blanks of things that you don't know, and that's what great vintage things bring you. It's also just an amazing way to get to know people, and that's such a cliche, but it's true.
What’s your favorite thing in the store right now?
Everything that we have is big; big is what we do. My favorite piece right now is a large scale, folk art light switch. It's 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide, and the actual switch part is about a foot-and-a-half long. It's homemade and one of a kind, and it's cool because of who made it, what it did, and what it says about our economy and our culture. It came from a closed-down union hall, from electrical union number 357 in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
It is a folk art created light switch, but it was created to be functional. It's a great piece of folk art, pop art, and political art. It's very politically-charged, because the union hall has since closed down. I'm from Detroit and the son of a retired Chrysler worker. I like things that are very politically-charged. I love things that are hyper masculine or hyperfeminine, things that bring up the stark contrast between heaven and hell, man and woman, the things that create that push and that pull between the two polar opposites. I love the tension it creates.
Where do you shop when you’re not at your store?
I love vintage clothing, so I shop almost entirely at local vintage clothing stores. My favorite place to shop is the Fremont Sunday Market. I find great things there. It's kind of a religious thing for me to get my coffee and go over there are on a Sunday morning. You can get everything there from cool vintage clothes to fresh-picked Chantrelles; you can just find everything.
What do you love about your store’s neighborhood? What nearby restaurants, coffee shops, etc do you recommend?
For shopping, I would recommend Susan Wheeler Home. It is a great store where you'll find perfectly stylish, gently-loved, beautiful vintage furnishing. To dine, Calamity Jane's and Hangar, those are my two favorite restaurants.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened in your store?
Not necessarily weird, but we had a bride and groom have their wedding pictures taken in the store about three years ago. I thought it was funny that they had their photos scheduled to be taken here, but they were eccentric just like our merchandise. They used some of our artwork as a portrait backdrop, and they were totally unique, just like all of our stuff. I was honored that they came in to do it here.