Sitting at his kitchen table drinking a cup of tea and looking as though he stepped out of an old photograph and into the 21st century, Tommy Krebs spoke of his collection of vintage menswear — one that took over the grand majority of his living area, with t-shirts piled high and rows of suit coats and military jackets filling the space.
Krebs runs an online shop called Memory Vintage out of his Clarksville home, where he collects and preserves items, largely men’s utilitarian and wartime attire, from as far back as the Victorian period.
He got an early start on his collection, and reflects on his mother’s influence on his passion: “It probably started when I was a kid. My mom is kind of a thrift shopper, so we did a lot of that growing up.”
While a large portion of his collection comes from local sources – you’ll notice his shop is full of t-shirts commemorating events from all over the Capital District – he seeks items from all over. “I do these regional trips once in a while. Once in a month I’ll go out to western NY, out to Utica and Rome, sometimes I go up North, out to the Adirondacks. But also if I’m going to New York City or if I’m going on a trip somewhere I’ll work it in. Like I went to Miami last year to visit my brother and I did a whole bunch of looking for stuff down there.”
The result is the curation of a collection of unique, memory-inducing items, some of which he admits he has a struggle parting with at times. Before we met, Krebs pulled out a few of his favorites to share with me, one of which was a sweater from 1910 in near perfect condition. “I have a thing for sweaters. this one I’ve had for probably 4 or 5 years. I’m going to sell it eventually, I just haven’t yet, I’ve been hoarding it.” Ultimately, the intention is to find it the perfect home, but Krebs as admits, “Something like this that’s in really good shape and it’s really old and it’s rare and has some value, I can’t keep it but I’m not quite ready to sell it yet.”
He isn’t always lucky enough to know the backstory behind certain items, but he’s managed to collect a few interesting tales over the years.
One of his favorites revolves around a collection of items purchased from a woman in Hoosick Falls. She was selling a bag full of her grandfather’s old belongings, and Krebs looked through the few items on top and immediately purchased the entire collection.
“So I went through the bag, and a lot of times this stuff will have little notes written in there by family members or little keepsakes or clues. If I have time I try to research and see what I can find out about the person or about the company or whatever, so I can usually get a rough story. This guy had served in France in WWII, but in the pockets there was an indian head penny from 1902 or something like that, there was a train ticket, and the train ticket turned out to be a railroad that ran from Troy to Averill Park – the guy was from Averill Park – so the train ticket was the ticket from when he came back from the war and took the train home.”
Because Krebs collects largely military and utilitarian wear, often times people will see an item online that they recognize as having belonged to a loved one. “I get a lot of relatives contacting me,” says Krebs. “They’ll see something in the shop and I’ll get a message like ‘This was my father’s store.”
“There was a place in Ballston Spa called Steiner’s that’s an antique shop now and his daughter contacted me because I had a pair of Steiner’s shoes from the 50s in the store. And she’s like ‘My father opened the store, I hungout there growing up my whole life, here’s a bunch of pictures of him,’ and so I talked to her for a long time online about the shop and I asked her about this picture I found of her dad in front of the store, and they had this gimmicky advertisement where they froze a pair of boots in front of the store, and it was like a raffle kind of thing and you would have to guess how long it takes for the boots to thaw, and then you get a free pair of boots. So I found this weird picture of her dad with a giant block of ice and the boots in front of the store, and she ended up having like four or five really nice, clear pictures that she sent me.”
Having a small reserve of stories like these, you can look to his website for more tales, as he’s trying to research and write about more items from his collection.
Memory Vintage may soon have its own brick and mortar shop, as Krebs has been considering opening up a physical store in the Albany area for several years now. Until then, you can shop his collection and read more online at www.MemoryVintage.com.