Joel Leshefka is an easy guy to like. He's normal, in a good way; he's generous in conversation and, notably, eye contact. If you stroll Ballard Avenue or ride bikes around Capitol Hill's 15th Avenue, you've seen Leshefka. If you've been to I Heart Rummage or the Fremont Sunday Market, you've probably talked with him. He's the guy with blue eyes and disheveled brown hair wearing an old T-shirt ("Ten more washes before it completely disintegrates," he says of his favorite, which features a snowmobile and reads "Ski-Doo"). As you learn more about Leshefka and what he does—he's the proprietor of Ballard's 20twenty (5208 Ballard Avenue NW, 706-0969), an emporium of vintage clothing and handmade goods—you realize he's the sort of self-possessed guy you really want to know, especially if there exists in you a fidgety (if nebulous) desire to make something, anything. Leshefka is a conductor for the inventive ambitions of many people in Seattle, not the least of whom is Joel Leshefka.
"Joel's this magnet for people who want to do creative stuff," says Wolf Carr. "He's encouraging and gets really excited." Carr's band, I Am the Internet, played one of its first shows dressed in athletic gear in front of the store during one of 20twenty's monthly art openings. (Leshefka took photographs.)
I met Leshefka in April 2005, just after he opened the shop. 20twenty had vintage clothing and some ties screen-printed with an image of a bicycle. I got excited upon finding a sweatshirt that read "Robot Harbor" in an odd '70s font, then confused when I found a second one, and a third. Turns out Leshefka had screen-printed the logo (conceived by him, designed by his frequent collaborator and girlfriend Sarah Sandman) onto different garments. There were also manual typewriters, which Leshefka sells because he likes them. "I've had to limit myself to just three," he says of his personal collection; he proudly describes his Smith Corona Ghia "Super G," designed by the same company responsible for the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia automobile.
20twenty's inventory of vintage clothes is impressive. "It would be impossible to tell you how much time I spend finding stock," he says, "because I don't think about it—I'm just always looking." (It is also impossible to find out where it all comes from—that question is shot down immediately with a stern "oh, I can't tell you that.") Leshefka also has a substantial amount of original items—T-shirts, jewelry, bags, mittens—from 30 to 40 local designers selling on consignment. "I love giving people checks," he says, grinning. "It's so cool to be able to give someone money for something they made—and probably never expected to actually get PAID for."
20twenty is a small business, but business is steady, which means Leshefka can focus on other creative projects. He and Sandman have started a line of clothing, Summer Camp, and plan to sell their pieces to other small shops. As we climb a ladder to print Summer Camp sweatshirts in the low-ceilinged loft of 20twenty, Leshefka declares that he's "pretty much winging it when it comes to everything." But it's clear he's looking ahead.
"Usually if someone pays me a compliment, they say, 'You have a good eye,'" Leshefka wrote me in an e-mail. He was referring to his own photography, but he's got an innate ability to make disparate items belong together, to collect them under his own obsessive, particular vision. Nearly everything about Leshefka seems casual and effortless, but this belies just how purposeful and personal it all is.