Weekend of Cheryl part 2: Cheryl shops the Upper East Side thrift stores
I've lived in NYC for nearly nine years now, and until Saturday, I had never gone thrift shopping on the Upper East Side. I had heard stories--Chanel, Hermes, Dior, oh my!--that the Upper East Side, what with all its charitable Ladies Who Lunch, is a treasure trove of thrift stores all designed to raise money for these ladies' pet causes. So, finally, on Saturday, I dragged MW with me, visions of some old biddy's vintage YSL castoffs dancing in my head.

We started at the Goodwill [1704 2nd Ave., at 88th St.], which is rather large and overwhelming, and yet, as the most traditionally thrift-shoppy of the bunch, a good place to start. I spotted several Armani jackets at $30 each, a Dior suit for $60, and some not-too-shabby fur coats. If those prices sound a bit high for a thrift store (and they are, in theory), keep in mind that they were by far the lowest I saw on Saturday. Now, this being a Goodwill, there was also a ton of junk, much of it polyester, and many of the garments needed a good cleaning. If you are patient, I'm sure there are good deals to be had; MW's former roommate DH swears by Goodwill. I, however, had many more stores on my list to hit.

Next was the Spence-Chapin Thrift Shop [1473 3rd Ave. between 83rd & 84th Sts.]. If you are looking for '80s Ungaro, St. John Knits, or Ferragamo shoes, this is the place for you. Prices were mostly under $100, which seemed a bit high at the time but in retrospect seems reasonable. The shop is tiny, but all of the merchandise was in quite good condition. MW and I were most amused by the impromptu borscht-belt comedy routine developing between a regular customer and one of the volunteers.

Across the street is the Cancer Care Thrift Shop [1480 3rd Ave. between 83rd & 84th Sts.], which is long and narrow but packed to the gills. Fancy jewelry and accessories are housed in a glass case in front; across from that is the designer section, where I found Prada pants (under $100), beautiful double-faced cashmere coats, a bright pink Chanel suit for $500, and a pair of circa-Stella McCartney Chloe pants, still with their original $685 price tag from Bergdorf Goodman (sadly, they were a size too small for me). Farther back, the racks are crammed with cashmere sweaters, silk blouses, and other staples from the Upper East Sider's closet. I was particularly taken with a red bouclé Carmen Marc Valvo dress, but, at $80, it was a bit more than I wanted to spend. MW found the men's racks too crammed to even browse, so onward and upward we went.

If there's a status hospital in NYC, it's Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and so their thrift shop [1440 3rd Ave. between 81st & 82nd Sts.] is pretty much what you'd expect: It's like a museum. The front features incredibly fancy furniture and objets d'art most likely banished to the store by various interior decorators; the middle of the store has a limited selection of expensive castoffs (cashmere sweaters, scarves, leisure wear); the back designer room is a treasure trove of Chanel, Pauline Trigere, Valentino...basically any big-name designer you could think of. Prices are steep, and skyrocket thereafter. My eyes teared up when I saw a pristine '70s YSL trench coat, in my size, for $350; I almost cringed when I saw a classic black Chanel suit for $1,500 (and, really, who gets rid of a black Chanel suit?). I was having fun just pawing everything, but after feeling the hawklike volunteer's eyes burning holes in my back, I decided to call it quits. Okay, clearly I could not afford anything here.

On the same block is the shop associated with a cause dear to my heart, that of the Arthritis Thrift Shop [1383 3rd Ave., between 81st & 82nd Sts.]. This shop is kind of a big disorganized mess, but I'm sure that if you have the time to dig, you can find some great stuff. I was starting to get pretty discouraged, however; I found a great vintage Jean Muir cashmere sweater, but its Berdgorf Goodman tag must've given it away, because it was marked $60. I also spotted a great pair of Chloe pumps, but they were behind the glass case, and I was afraid to ask the price. With the exception of Goodwill, the Arthritis Foundation's prices were the most reasonable, and this was the only store where I saw a line of people waiting to check out.

Our last stop was the Housing Works Thrift Shop [202 E. 77th St. between 2nd and 3rd Aves.], which was at least a bit more affordable than its neighbors. I found an awesome colorblocked silk dolman-sleeve dress from the '80s that seemed like a deal at $30, but, sadly, it had grease stains all along the front. Everything else--especially the selection of books--was pretty meager, especially compared to the downtown Housing Works.

So, four hours later, MW and I headed back to Brooklyn, completely empty-handed. Shopping the Upper East Side thrift stores is definitely not your typical thrift-store experience; it's more akin to shopping a vintage store curated by a middle-aged woman. Now, I realize that these stores benefit charities, hospitals and/or schools--all worthy causes--but I can't help but wonder if they'd generate even more money if the items were priced lower, and thus they sold more. My mom volunteers at a thrift shop, and while the town I grew up in is definitely not the Upper East Side, it's still fancy enough, but the items are priced at thrift-shop-friendly prices; over the years, my mom has snagged me a Prada raincoat for $12 and a (real) Chanel purse for $20. Such deals are clearly not to be had in Manhattan, but if you have an afternoon to spare, it's always fun to go treasure hunting.


Anonymous said...

I have been going to thrift shops since I was a young child in the late 1960s. My only interest was/is electronics.

In the 70s I volunteered in two stores testing electrical items and determined their value as they arrived.

The staff in these places get first choice of donated items and I have often given stereos, tv's and other good quality appliances only to see them snapped-up by staff and never make it to the sales floor.

Once The Leach (landlord) takes his pound of flesh and the staff get their perks, your suspicion that little trickles down to the charity is likely true.


East 80's bet Park and Lex

Cordelia said...

that was a great detailed piece. I plan to move to NY someday soon!