One upon a time in New York City — circa 2006, or so — all of the city’s best consignment shops were clustered in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Beacon’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange were the must-visit thrift stores for cool kids looking to build their hipster cred, or at least fake it with a vintage motorcycle jacket.
But as real estate prices went up, so did the cost of cool.
All of a sudden, some of Manhattan’s wealthier zip codes — Murray Hill, Gramercy Park, even the Upper East Side and Soho — have become hotbeds for shops selling good vintage and lightly worn new designer pieces for less than you’ll spend on the other side of the East River.
“It’s like shopping in the Girls closet, not Hannah’s, but the other ones,” says Andrea, 29, an actress from Brooklyn, leafing through an array of Hermes riding pants at the Upper East Side location of Second Time Around, a growing consignment-store chain that boasts both affordable prices and a bevy of once-worns from the closets of the rich and famous. “Probably for 75 percent the retail rate, you can walk away with a poor-little-rich-girl’s wardrobe, without breaking into your daddy’s bank account.”
Second Time Around has certainly become a dumping ground for the privileged and celebrity hand-me-downs. Well-to-do women like Padma Lakshmi, who shops with her mother; Bethenny Frankel; Nicky Hilton; and Bette Midler have all been known to frequent the shop.
“Nicky Hilton comes in with a brimmed hat and doesn’t even look at the clothes. She just walks in, on her cellphone, and does a round,” says Sarah, one of the shopkeepers.
One of Second Time Around’s best consigners was Hannah Bronfman, the DJ, model, and Manhattan it-girl.
“Our consigners are really personable; they tell us their entire life stories; there is a history with every item,” says Meghan Hanika, the manager for all of Second Time Around’s New York City stores.
Recently, a man came in looking to unload a newly purchased Michael Kors briefcase after a breakup earlier that day. “I guess it is therapeutic to get rid of your stuff,” remarks Sarah, a Second Time Around consigner.
Bad juju to buy a bag from the brokenhearted? Not if the price is right. The briefcase sold for $100, a steal since the bags typically retail for over $300.
Second Time Around has expanded to over 15 shops in New York City, 10 of which have opened in the past five years. Each location has its own charm and selection, specifically tailored to its audience. The Upper West Side location features J. Crew and Ralph Lauren, whereas the store at 75th and Lexington is stuffed with Prada, Gucci, and Celine. No matter which store you enter, you’ll find clothing gems like rabbit-fur-lined cardigans, Miu Miu dresses for only $150, and John Varvatos button-downs.
“We have very sensitive consigners, like our Chanel girl,” says Hanika, describing an elderly woman in Soho who has given almost an entire clothing rack’s worth of quality Chanel to Second Time Around’s Mott Street location. “She always has a story about how Soho used to be in the ’60s.”
Hanika recently sold a couple of vintage dresses their “Chanel girl” had worn in the ’70s when she danced and rubbed elbows with the cultural elite at Studio 54.
Meanwhile, if you’re still married to the idea that the best vintage is only found in the hipper hinterlands of Brooklyn, the Grand Street Bakery, owned by married couple Neil and Cyd Mello, is a charming option. Before opening the store in 2010, Neil was in the vintage business for 20 years, while Cyd worked as PR director for jewelry designer Pamela Love.
The Mellos lived across the street from the Grand Street Bakery and had always dreamed of turning the space into a clothing store. Their vision to create the best vintage shop in the area, fostered by many dreamy discussions of its layout held while gazing out their back window, finally came to fruition when the bakery closed in 2010.
The store’s wares are excellent because of the Mellos’ familial sojourns into vintage territory. The duo road-trips across the country — usually with their baby — in their 1971 VW Westfalia, working with dealers all over the U.S. to discover the coolest finds to bring back to the heart of hipsterville.
If you’re looking for a pair of vintage Levi’s ($75–$95), a vintage Fruit of the Loom Pocket T ($45), or a vintage Grateful Dead T for your best Deadhead friend ($175), the Grand Street Bakery is located right off the Grand stop on the L train.
The store has retained the essence of the old by keeping its baking racks. “Everyone calls us the bakery,” says Cyd Mello. They also recently opened a back room in the bakery devoted to children’s vintage. At $30 to $45 for a baby Levi’s jean jacket, it’s not a bad deal when shopping for the coolest of tykes.