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.