Spokane Journal of Business

Atomic Threads: A mishmash of cute and weird


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-—LeAnn Bjerken
Atomic Threads owners Tina and Mike Brandvold moved the store into the Monroe Street antique district last year.
-—LeAnn Bjerken

From the top of its mural wall to its glitter-infused floors, Atomic Threads Clothing Boutique is more than a business; it’s an experience, say co-owners Tina and Mike Brandvold.

“We wanted this place to have a little something for everyone, and it came out as a mishmash of cute and weird,” says Tina.

Atomic Threads is located 1925 N. Monroe, in the heart of Spokane’s Monroe Street antiques district, and adding to its vintage charm is the fact that it shares a building with a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store and a parking lot with Boulevard Mercantile and a Zips Drive-In restaurant.

“This location, being so close to other vintage shops, has played a big part in our success so far,” says Tina. “We recently started piping the music to outside speakers, which has also attracted more walking traffic.”

The business, which specializes in selling vintage-style and alternative apparel, is co-owned by the vintage-loving couple, who also are its only two employees.

Mike works as a mechanic for the Johanna Beverage Co. and helps out at the shop in the evenings. Meanwhile, Tina, who was previously working as a dog groomer and pin-up photographer, now focuses on operating the shop and home schooling her children.

“I still do pin-up photography through my studio, Stina Rae Photography,” Tina says. “When we started Atomic Threads, we turned my home photography studio into a boutique. But it took off so fast that we outgrew that space.”

She says she started Atomic Threads in April 2017, because she was tired of not being able to find her favorite vintage styles and brands locally.

“It was really hard to find anything vintage in the sizes or styles I was looking for,” she says. “Even larger cities like Seattle had only limited selections to choose from.”

The couple say they noticed the shop’s current storefront space had been vacated during the North Monroe Corridor project, which was started in April 2018.

Mike says, “We saw it had been vacant for a while, and opening a vintage shop here just seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

The shop has been operating in its new space for about seven months now, and just held a combined two-year anniversary celebration in April.

“The winter months were a bit slower, but now that we’ve started to get our name out there, it’s picking up,” says Mike. “The business is able to support itself now, so basically we’re keeping the bills paid, replenishing inventory, and reinvesting anything extra back into new ideas.”

The shop occupies 1,400 square feet of retail space that includes an open showroom and four additional rooms around its perimeter, one of which is a changing room. Others showcase shoes, accessories, and lingerie.

The shop also has one room dedicated to office space, storage, and a work area for the couple’s own creative design projects.

Tina says, “We’ve got some equipment and materials back there that we’re playing around with. The plan is to eventually create our own clothing brand, but that’s probably a few years down the road yet.”

Currently, Atomic Threads offers a variety of pin-up and rockabilly-style clothing for men and women in sizes ranging from XS all the way up to 6XL, and shoes up to size 16.

“It was very important to me to be able to offer clothing in all shapes and sizes, regardless of gender or age,” she says. “Besides pin-up and rockabilly, we also offer psychobilly and alternative clothing styles.”

Pin-up style refers to poster and calendar art from the ’40s and ’50s that featured glamour girls, models, and actresses with perfectly curled hair posing in figure-flattering clothing or lingerie. 

Rockabilly style is a mix of 1950s fashion, music and culture, and clothing can include flannels or classic prints that feature cherries, skulls and crossbones, polka dots, and other fun patterns. Meanwhile, psychobilly style, like the music genre it’s based on, mixes elements of rockabilly styles and punk rock fashions of the ’70s.  

The boutique also offers a selection of handbags, jewelry, and hair accessories.

“A lot of our jewelry, embroidery and artwork are pieces that were made by local artists,” says Tina. “We also offer some hair products and we’re looking into carrying makeup brands, too.”

The couple say specialty shoes are one of the shop’s most popular items.

“We sell a lot of shoes,” says Tina. “Enough that we’ve started offering a discount on shoes for dancers and performers.”

The shop carries a mix of clothing brands from both the U.S. and the United Kingdom, including Lindy Bop, Hell Bunny, Lady V London, Steady Clothing, Sourpuss Clothing, Liquorbrand, Kreepville, Woven Pair, Kix’xies Thigh Highs, Pleaser Shoes, and Pour Moi? lingerie.

“Customers can create a custom order from any of our brands,” says Tina. “We plan to add a couple of new brands to our selection later this summer.”

While the shop is open Tuesday through Saturday, it also offers one-on-one or private party shopping experiences, as well as the option of ordering online through its website.

“Private parties are usually groups that set aside a few hours to hang out and try things on. For some of those events, we allow drinks and refreshments,” she says. “The one-on-one experiences are for customers who might experience shopping anxiety, or just prefer a bit more privacy. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from our customers on both of those services, and we’re happy to continue to offer them.”

Tina says that on Saturdays, the shop also offers cupcakes from a local baker known as Dianimal’s Delights. 

“She makes a different flavor each week, and our regular customers will stop in to shop and have a cupcake,” she says.

Much like its clothing selection, Atomic Threads attracts customers of all ages and styles, Tina says.

“We’ve had customers of all ages, from 18 on up to 93 years old,” she says. “We do get a lot of support from the LGBT community, and we offer our support in return because we feel those groups don’t always get the acceptance they should locally.”

The shop’s main retail space also features a dance pole and hardware in the ceiling to attach aerial dance equipment, which enables its owners to invite in area performers including; drag and burlesque dancers, aerial acrobats, and live singers.

“We want this to be a safe space for all genders, lifestyles, and sizes,” says Tina. “So, it’s important to us to use our space to host special events and classes that also promote local performers and artists.”

The Brandvolds say Atomic Threads gains a lot of marketing exposure from participating in car shows, neighborhood street fairs, and such events as Spokane Pride, Lilac City Comic Con, and Spokane Zombie Con.

“We’ve definitely noticed an uptick in customers after we attend those events,” says Tina. “So, the goal is to participate more and host more events here at the shop.”

The Brandvolds say they’re currently gearing up for Spokane’s Pride Parade and festival activities in June, including designing a float for the parade, along with custom T-shirts, and wall art made from custom carved wood.

Tina says Atomic Threads also will host several new events in the coming months including a trivia night fundraiser, a live-action painting event, a pin-up hair and makeup class with Los Angeles-based artist Cherry Dollface, and an oddity and taxidermy class by Palouse-based taxidermist Gabriel Rose.

“We’ve had customers stop in who will ask us about oddities shops, or stores that sell unusual or creepy vintage items,” says Tina. “We don’t really specialize in that, but we know artists who do, so we’re hoping to feature their work when we can.”

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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