Christopher Switzer didn’t grow up playing little league or lacing up hockey skates at six a.m. like many Canadian boys. Instead, he was born into a family of collectors, and was raised browsing thrift shops, scouring flea markets, and attending antique auctions.
The term “family business” could not be more true for Switzer’s Kitsilano vintage haven Stepback. His inheritance of the vintage gene stems from a long line of collectors in the Fraser Valley, who now help supply the shop’s revolving inventory. “I’m the youngest of all my siblings by 10 to 14 years, so by the time I came around, my parents were full-blown into antique collecting mode. Every weekend, I went to flea markets and auctions. And funny, that seems to be what we are doing with our kids now,” says Switzer. “Even as a young adult in a band, travelling around in a van, I still always stopped at a thrift store along the way. Coming home from tour, I’d have suitcases filled with dirty laundry and vintage stuff I had picked up.”
Switzer and his wife Robin Muxlow opened Stepback 12 years ago, after discovering a West Broadway space for lease during a casual neighbourhood stroll (they have since moved down the street, to a larger location). Sharing a love of vintage collecting, the pair decided to expand their hobby and open up their labour of love to the community. “It was crazy. Like, how did we get a store?” Switzer laughs as he makes room to chat on a set of old-school chairs, surrounded by shelves of antique luggage. “It evolved naturally to open this shop; it was never a preconceived notion or any grand scheme. It came from having a passion for it all. We just flew by the seat of our pants and made it happen. Robin figured out all of the business things, and we fixed up the space and turned it around in a few weeks, and there we were.”
Stepback carries a carefully curated hodgepodge of vintage goods and rare oddities, paired with a quaint selection of greeting cards, East Van Jam, candles, soaps, and other upcycled items. Brimming with furniture, vintage school maps, typewriters, trunks, suitcases, human anatomy diagrams, and occasional taxidermies, the shop serves as something akin to an eclectic time machine.
You would think that keeping a niche mill like Stepback alive would require a complex process, but Switzer and Muxlow’s treasure hunting technique is simple. The inventory is always changing, or as Switzer accurately jokes, “it’s a new store every day.”
The only question they ask themselves when sourcing product is: do they like it? “There’s no particular style of era—as long as we like it, then we feel like we can sell it,” Switzer says. “Half of the stuff that comes through here is found and sourced by this cranky little old lady out in Chilliwack, who then fixes it up, and cleans it up, and gets it ready to come to the shop.”
Aside from its vast selection and swift turnover, what makes Stepback such a thriving haunt is its broad customer appeal—a recipe for success that Switzer attributes partially to their economical price points and buzzing Instagram community. The secret, however, may just be in Switzer’s jovial zest for the job. “We get the question a lot about the demographic of our customers, expecting a very streamlined group. But it’s not,” he says. “It’s literally eight-year-old boys, and 90-year-old women, and everyone in between.” There is something comforting about walking into Stepback and poking around all the quaint curiosities; it feels nostalgic and contemporary all at once.
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