On Monday I walked past on Fifth Avenue. The shop was closed because the staff was busily preparing for a big event the next day.
The showroom, on the corner of Garfield Place, was crammed with newly arrived furniture that needed to be priced. Through the window, I spotted a contemporary dining room table with four matching chairs with white upholstered seats. The legs were a pretty cherry wood color while the top had a green glass surface. Best of all, it looked like it folded out to be a much bigger table if the occasion required. I immediately called a friend.
"Did you find a dining room table yet?" I said into the phone.
"Not yet," she said.
Since my friend was just a few blocks away, I suggested she come over and have a look. While I waited, I asked one of the clerks for the price of the table and she told me that it hadn't been priced yet.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw my friend running towards the shop.
"It's nice," my friend said staring into the window. "It's not exactly what I had in mind, but it is nice...."
My friend snapped a photo of the table and sent it to her husband. Behind the four legs she spotted an off-white sofa with no arms and a tufted back.
"That would look great in your apartment," I said, knowing well that she's looking for a new sofa.
"I wonder if that's a sleeper," she said and snapped another picture of the couch with her iPhone.
Is this what you call window shopping? I though to myself.
While we were standing in front of the store two people stopped by with huge shopping bags full of clothes that Housing Works staff graciously accepted.
So much for just leaving old clothing and books out on the stoop as many in Park Slope are want to do. Now that Housing Works is here Slopers have another option, they can donate to an organization that not only sells cool thrift shop items but also serves as a resource for people living with or are affected by HIV/AIDS.
Their mission is commendable and ambitious: "To end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts."
That's where the thrift shop comes in. There are ten Housing Work Thrift Shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn, including shops in Brooklyn Heights, Chelsea, Gramercy, Hells Kitchen, Tribeca and the Upper West Side.
The Park Slope branch opened a few months ago and it always seems to have a lively selection of goods in the window. Since my apartment is overcrowded with furniture, books and the usual detritus of a family of four, I try to avoid going in for fear of buying yet something else I really don't need.
My friend and I could not drag ourselves away from the window as we kept finding interesting things to admire. Two Danish modern chairs caught my eye. They were attractive and exceedingly collectable, but I can't possibly fit another chair into my apartment.
An overturned coffee table, also mid-century, summoned my eye. Tantalizingly, it said, "Made in Sweden" on the bottom and I couldn't help but try to visualize it right-side-up and in my living room.
"Too big," I said to myself, remembering how little space I have for a coffee table.
When I was a kid my father loved to shop in thrift stores. An avid record collector, he often came home with armfuls of classical and jazz LPs. But he'd also bring home books, clothing, antiques and even artwork from his thrift store excursions.
Probably his best find, certainly the most valuable, was a series of photographs by Bruce Nauman, a renowned contemporary artist whose work has been featured in many museums.
Indeed, my father had what it takes to be a great thrift store shopper: A keen eye, knowledge of the value of things and the stamina to search and search and search. Finally, he loved to boast: "You won't believe what I found at a thrift shop!"
When I was in college, up in Binghamton, New York, I caught the bug and loved to shop the thrift stores. The Salvation Army, in particular, was an amazing resource for vintage dresses, shoes and hats from the 1930s and 1940s.
When I moved to Park Slope I realized that stoop sales replaced my need to go thrift shopping. As is well known, it is habit in these parts for people to sell the things they no longer want on the sidewalk in front of their houses.
When I first moved here I found this compelling. Over time, when my apartment became crowded with things I'd bought at stoop sales, I started having my own sales as a way to get rid of outgrown children's clothing, toys, books and things that I no longer liked or needed.
In recent years, it seems, Slopers skip the actual stoop sale and put their tired books and clothing on the stoop or gates of their houses and offer them up for free. I have done this myself numerous times with furniture, books, clothing and kitchen items.
Most of the time these items disappear quickly. But sometimes, embarrassingly, they don't and they sit there for days looking like misplaced garbage. Finally, I have to admit that no one wants my throwaways and I toss it myself.
But even in the midst of DIY thrift stores on our neighbor’s stoops, Housing Works in Park Slope is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, especially one that values the idea of recycling.
But what makes it even better, is that our contributions to the thrift shop (and our purchases) will actually benefit others, especially those living with HIV/AIDS and without places to call home.