The historic White Castle that Justin Schaefer remembers walking past as a teenager is about to host Schaefer’s new vintage store. When he lived in the neighborhood around the turn of the century, he would pass the White Castle, then an accordion store, to get to his favorite punk shops.
“It’s so unique in its architecture that obviously it’s hard to forget, and everybody wants to have some association with it. It was just sort of this landmark place that was a funny place to walk past,” Schaefer said.
Now the White Castle, which has been a music non-profit and an antique shop in the past five years, will be home to Schaefer’s streetwear clothing, Pee-Wee Herman toys and old local band paraphernalia when it opens on Oct. 8 just in time for Open Streets Lyndale.
Pee-Wee Herman memorabilia and skateboarding stuff are representative of Schaefer’s style. Photo by Anna Koenning
Schaefer’s style is weird, colorful and flashy. He loves velour animal prints and neon accents. He calls himself the number one dealer of Zubaz pants, and says he has the 90s pants in every shade. He has band t-shirts from local and international musicians, vintage denim kids’ overalls and a sweatshirt the size of a Fiat. A father himself, Schaefer said that his vintage kids’ clothing collection sets him apart from other vintage dealers.
In addition to clothing, he collects what he calls ephemera, meaning items that exist to be used for a short time. He has drawers of papers with drawings and band posters, bizarre action figures from the 60s and at least one whole box of inflatable toys.
The ephemera collection is a nod to Schaefer’s career as an artist. After attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Schaefer lived and worked across the country as an artist. He specialized in ephemeral art that existed very temporarily, like dying a pool red. After putting on a show in California, Schaefer became tired of the art world and returned to his hometown of Stillwater to work in the food industry in 2014.
The ephemeral theme tied into food as well. Schaefer loves cooking, and equates it to ephemeral art in that you make the food, display it nicely on a plate, eat it, and it’s gone. He also has experience working in the food world. He worked at a cheese shop in Stillwater, opened a restaurant in Bayport, worked at St. Genevieve, Fika and then at Kyatchi. Then he got laid off.
“When I got laid off from Kyatchi I was like why don’t I use all this free time and start aggressively thrifting?” Schaefer said.
He had always enjoyed thrifting, but the extra time on his hands allowed Schaefer to kick it into high gear. He spent hours every day at flea markets and wholesale thrift shops buying carts and carts of clothing. The flexible schedule also allowed Schaefer to take care of his kids and pick them up whenever they needed.
“I had always been buying vintage clothing and ephemera and stuff and being surrounded by it,” Schaefer said. “Any time I had free time I would be at a thrift shop or a specialty vintage store. I mean this is all over the cities, anywhere I would visit, it’s just what I would want to do.”
At first he didn’t have a plan for the clothing, but the boxes started piling up. Pretty soon he and his partner moved their child into their room to fill the child’s bedroom with boxes of vintage wares. Schaefer credits his art career for shaping his eye for cool vintage finds.
Schaefer moved the boxes into a friend’s basement, then a garage in Marine on St. Croix, then a 600 square foot studio where he could spread out a bit and eventually a 1600 square foot space in St. Paul. He used the space to sell clothing to Japanese vintage buyers who bought American finds to sell at Japanese vintage markets. A friend who also sold to Japanese buyers tipped him off to this market, and Schaefer started bringing in money. He went shopping for hours, took care of his kids and met with Japanese dealers a few times a month. Eventually he began selling at vintage markets too.
When a friend mentioned to Schaefer that the White Castle was up for rent, Schaefer said no. When his friend mentioned that the space had a parking lot, Schaefer thought about it a little more. Then he learned about the Painter Park skate park, and Schaefer called up the building manager.
“The skate park across the street also is an amazing thing to be able to support as someone who loved to skateboard and also has many skateboard-related pieces,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer said that the building manager, Pat Fitzgerald, was incredibly helpful. If she hadn’t been so wonderful to deal with, Schaefer said he probably wouldn’t have gone through with renting the space. The idea of occupying the historic White Castle, the one he remembered walking by as a teenager, was daunting to Schaefer. His friends thought it was perfect.
“All my friends… were like it’s a fucking no brainer. It is the perfect place for you. It could only be you,” Schaefer said.
The store doesn’t have a name yet, but it won’t be called White Castle or anything close to it. In addition to selling vintage wares, Schaefer wants to buy or trade with community members.
The shop will open on Oct. 8 with a vintage market in the parking lot for Open Streets. Schaefer isn’t sure what the hours will be yet, but he aims to have the store open six days a week. The historic White Castle #8 is located at 3252 Lyndale Avenue South.