A (Short?) Farewell to Vintage Jersey Mecca

Ebbets Field Flannels Seattle Washington Storefront
A view from vintage jersey mecca — as a result of the coronavirus, Ebbets Field Flannels announced Friday it was closing its Seattle storefront this week.

Ebbets Field Flannels Liquidates Seattle Storefront

Strange times we’re living in. Strange times indeed.

Been sort of surreal since returning from my business trip to London and Amsterdam, just as U.S. borders were closing, I haven’t left my house in 14 days due to self-quarantining (I fortunately feel fine), so I have not had a look at how my own town is faring in the midst of coronavirus shutdowns.

But I got a big punch in the gut this morning when I opened my email to discover Ebbets Field Flannels, for 30+ years the foremost manufacturer and purveyor of vintage replica jerseys and other historic team gear, has had to shut down its Seattle storefront in the wake of our rocky pandemic economy.

I’ve followed Ebbets since I was 12-year-old kid, reading about founder Jerry Cohen in the pages of Sports Illustrated. After sending away for a catalog, I dog-eared the pages, relishing the stories of minor league baseball teams from the first half of the 20th century, and the short-lived Federal League of the 19-teens, and legends of the Negro Leagues. Their flannel jerseys struck me as not just cool, but beautiful. And I dreamed of the impossibly far away-seeming time that 40 bucks for a cap or $200 for a jersey would burn enough of a hole in my wallet to bring these pieces of history, and art, to my closet.

Well, we could all use an extra $40 or $200 these days, with 401Ks nosediving, and our local businesses feeling the burn. But in our fantastically recent past — doesn’t even January or February seem like a dream now? — I counted myself fortunate enough to have made a few choice Ebbets fashions part of my wardrobe. Most recently, finally, a 1950s Browns Otto Graham jersey. And some six years ago, I worked with Ebbets on recreating my grandpa Foutz’s 1931 high school football jersey.

They are among the most breath-catchingly awesome articles of clothing I own.

So, even in the wake of all the awful news we spin our heads to perpetually these days, my breath caught in a sudden and sorrowful way as I took in the update from Ebbets this morning.

View from inside Ebbets Field Flannels storefront Seattle Washington
Stepping inside Ebbets’ Pioneer Square store in Seattle was akin to hanging out in the coolest record store, or your older brother’s room.

Hoping for a Speedy Return

The subject line announced, “Retail Store Clearance,” and I was just hoping that what I assumed would not turn out to be true.

But the message made immediately clear the retail location in Pioneer Square, just blocks between Seattle’s stadiums, would be going on “temporary hiatus.”

The Store was the way we connected with many of you, and it really hurts to have to close it. We are in the same position as all other Seattle retailers. Please be assured that our main online business is operating normally and that we hope to re-open our retail outlet at the earliest possible date.

Now… there is some good news there. Sounds like Ebbets will be opening up again, when we put this wretched pandemic behind us. And probably, making this move will ensure they keep thriving even as they turn their attention to their online orders.

But man, I remember the first time I managed to make it to mecca. Walking from my hotel, winding along hilly downtown streets and eventually through Pioneer Square. Coming up on the sandwich-board sign outside, and the old-timey window, packed with jerseys and ballcaps, and topped by a vintage baseball scene, I felt like I was 12 again.

I wasn’t brave enough, the first time, to snap photos inside. Almost like visiting a sacred shrine. But I spent probably better than a half hour clicking through every hanger on the rack, running my fingers along the insides of wool ballcaps, squinting at old photos, pacing back and forth on the creaking floorboards. I texted and called my wife, feeling like I could spend $40 in there, or $400.

Funny thing about made-to-order vintage, though: a lot of what they stocked inside the store were the odd sizes, or the jerseys that had been returned (I’m guessing). Or else, floor samples. If they’d had a 1940s Kansas City Monarchs jersey in XL, or had nailed the NFL contract a year or so earlier and had Browns gear on the shelves — yeah, I would’ve lightened my wallet considerably. Instead, I returned home and hit up the website, faithfully, when my vintage urges took hold again.

Ebbets was advertising a liquidation sale of their storefront merchandise. Half off a lot of stuff. And I jumped at it. Feeling a surge of loyalty, and feeding the bargain hunter inside. I had a 1915 Pittsburgh Stogies Federal League jersey in my cart, slashed to $99, and then another 10% off coupon applied, but… I hesitated. Was I buying because I truly admired that jersey? Did it “spark joy?” Or was I caught up, panicked really, in the fervor of the bad news lately, and the urge to do what small thing I could do about it?

In the end, like walking away empty-handed from the storefront instead of sporting whatever XL jersey was on the rack — not to mention floating in the XXXLs — I took a breath. Hit pause. Backed out of my cart for the moment.

I wish Ebbets Field all the best as they work their way through this pandemic, along with the rest of us. And I will always remain a loyal customer — notching up my next made-to-order dream purchase, when the time is right, and the (vintage jersey) fever takes hold.

But this story, from all the way over in Seattle, is yet another reminder of how small the world is. How dependent we all are on one another. And how, right in our own backyard, similar stories are playing out, and how we and our neighbors, whether near or far, are going to need to stitch more tightly together in these times, how we need to look after one another.

I’ll be on the lookout for that call, and all the ways I can do that. And I’ll look forward to the day when the bad news is history, and the sun is bright and warm on our shoulders again, like a limitless spring Saturday at the ballpark that takes hold in our fondest dreams, that we may live them, over and over again, in a blessed reality.

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