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The Business of Nostalgia

Shannon Gausepohl

The forgotten ghosts of pop-culture past have made a triumphant return. Between shows like "Fuller House" (the Netflix reboot of the '90s hit Full House), the return of "Gilmore Girls," and Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block back on tour, nostalgia is having its moment.  

Whether it's podcasts about old shows and movies, nostalgia-driven events and merchandise, or a resurgence of food and drinks made popular decades ago, entrepreneurs are finding ways to relive what made them happy in the past and create something new.

In most cases, these "comeback" businesses are a happy accident. For many nostalgia entrepreneurs, their business sprung from their passion, which has led to throngs of die-hard followers and fans.

This is especially true for the duo that runs Emo Night in Brooklyn, a monthly event with a DJ that plays the emo, post-hardcore and pop-punk hits of the aughts, drawing thousands of passionately-singing millennials to their party.

The idea for their event was planted in Boston, where British co-founders and childhood friends Alex Badanes and Ethan Maccoby both attended college. The pair started the party in their respective dorm rooms, and "rocked out pretty hard while doing it." The guys then moved to Brooklyn around the same time and would always pre-game (partying before the bar) in a similar fashion.

"Alex and I thought it would be cool if we moved the 'party' to a bar, invited our friends, and maybe the [bar] would give us free beer in exchange for bringing people," Maccoby said. "[We] went to a bar across the street from Alex's apartment in Williamsburg. They kind of laughed but agreed that we could set up our laptop in the corner of their 100-capacity basement, play a playlist of music that we wanted, and of course, if a few people came, we would get that free beer we always wanted."

After that initial playlist-night in Brooklyn, Badanes and Maccoby created a Facebook event, in which they invited their friends, who invited their friends (and so on).

"On the actual night, there were hundreds of people lined up trying to get into this basement to drink, party, and most importantly, rock out to the music that they grew up with. Everyone agreed it was one of the best nights of [their] lives," Maccoby said.

Badanes and Maccoby's story isn't uncommon for the entrepreneurs transforming their childhood and fan-based passion into unexpected success stories.

For Jennie Whitaker, founder of the Gilmore Girls Fan Fest, she was passionate about rekindling the love of Gilmore Girls and creating something new. At the time, the show had been off the air for about a decade.

The idea came to her while in Connecticut (where the Gilmore Girls takes place). She thought, "Why hasn't anyone organized a Stars Hollow celebration for fans?"

Whitaker couldn't imagine a world where people couldn't visit Stars Hollow alive and present, the website says. She, with the help of her husband and co-founder Marcus, decided it was time to "bring the idea to life at least one weekend of the year."

The inaugural weekend drew 1,500 guests from across the globe and are planning to do it again this year. In addition to experiencing the town the show is based on, attendees were able to meet numerous cast members.

"For us, what was important was that we created something memorable, that the attendees had a great time, the cast got to get away from their day-to-day chaos, the media had a feel-good story to tell and the town we utilized enjoyed the visitors," Whitaker said. "Really, we wanted to walk away making everyone's weekend one to remember. And, I think we accomplished that."

Exploring an interest in these topics doesn't necessarily require going to a physical place, either. Fanatics of shows and movies can access numerous podcasts that chat and reminisce about their favorite episodes. From "The West Wing " and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to "Gilmore Girls" and even Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOM), fans of pop-culture can enjoy new content featuring their old favorites.

"Pop culture podcasts were really coming into their element when I started – shows like U Talkin U2 To Me? and Gilmore Guys were taking my social media feeds by storm," said Zetus Lapodcast host Zach Heltzel. "I … asked myself what parts of my childhood stuck with me and were not already being covered sufficiently by other podcasts. I eventually landed on Disney Channel Original Movies."

Though the podcast began with nostalgia, it's grown to much more than that for Heltzel.

"The podcast is a wonderful excuse to ask amazing writers, comedians, and DCOM super-fans to hang out with me and go on little adventures for a few hours every week," he said. "Every long-form discussion I have with my guests teaches me a lot, and ... these conversations I have with these funny and smart people have helped me grow."

Similarly, Gilmore Guys co-founder and co-host Kevin Porter said people tuned into his show "because it was specifically about something they already knew and liked."

Porter and co-host Demi Adejuyigbe didn't set out to make money with the show especially since there is "so little of it."

"We did to have fun," Porter said. "All of the money-making opportunities were born out of necessity. We wanted and needed to do live shows due to demand."

Tickets started at $5 for the Gilmore Guys' first show. It grew from there, and the duo eventually signed with a podcast network called HeadGum and monetized their show through ads. The "Guys" have merchandise as well, which has helped create a positive cash flow for them.

Why nostalgic businesses work

Nostalgic businesses thrive and hold fan's attention for a reason: They remind us of things that brought us happiness in our youth.

"It's partly an idealized sense of the past; it is also an ability to escape from the present moment," said Jessica Koblenz, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York. "We tend to highlight positives of items that are comforting even when situations have actually improved. For example, we have nostalgia and glamorize the moments we didn't have cell phones because we remember the fun adventures that ensued from trying to meet up."

"I think the business of nostalgia and the reason we'll see x-amount of Star Wars movies, "Twin Peaks" and "Full House" revivals is because people are chasing that feeling that they had when they were young," Porter added.

Koblenz notes that some nostalgia is based on a mythical time that never was: "For example, in Disneyworld Main Street, U.S.A. isn't an actual place. It's cleaner and friendlier, and only has the best elements of that time," she said.

Starting a nostalgic business

If you want to start a business based on a nostalgic love, it needs to be based on a real passion.

"There is definitely a big market for [it]. Everyone wants to relive great memories, and the fact that you can meet other people with similar interests while doing that makes it a slam dunk," Maccoby said. "It's all feel-good vibes and nostalgia is a positive feeling that people will always want to experience."

As with any business, you should understand your target audience and their needs. Heltzel suggests creating a plan for how you will make that connection.

"Have an extremely nuanced, detailed understanding of the people who share the same nostalgic feelings that you do for whatever it is you want to explore," Heltzel said. "To get their attention, you are going to have to connect with them on a level that is deeper than just a mutual respect for a shared experience you once had."

Maccoby notes that entrepreneurs should make sure the number one reason to pursue this type of business, "will not only be happy but that happiness will lead to success."

When getting your business off the ground, Maccoby offered the following advice:

Be smart with your money. "Invest it wisely in your business, don't overspend," he said. "You don't always need the most expensive hotels or food, or cars. Get by with what you need."

Take care of the people that help you. "We have an amazing team helping us, including booking agents, promoters, press/social media managers, artists we work with, etc." he said.

Create positive relationships. "The people around you will ultimately help you be more successful," Maccoby said.

"Find something worthwhile that won't feel like work most of the time," Whitaker added. "Work harder than you've ever worked, and one day hopefully it'll make you burst with pride."

Image Credit: Emo Night in Brooklyn
Shannon Gausepohl Member
<p>Shannon Gausepohl graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a degree in journalism. She has worked at a newspaper and in the public relations field. Shannon is a zealous bookworm, has her blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, and loves her Blue Heeler mix, Tucker.&nbsp;</p>