The Retrophile Files: A Thrift Shop with a Cure for What Ails You
When you walk into the Cure Thrift Shop on East 12th Street in New York City this month, you will be greeted by a Christmas tree placed behind what looks like a child’s tea party waiting to happen.
This Christmahanukwanzakah season, New York City’s Cure Thrift Shop makes doing good as you shop as simple as counting one-two-three. First, every purchase made benefits the Diabetes Research Institute, an organization solely devoted to curing diabetes. Second, if you don’t live anywhere near NYC, where this store resides, no worries; you can shop online. And third, it stocks the perfect gift for any picky retrophile on your list: gift certificates.
Liz Wolff, the shop’s founder took a little time out her busy holiday retail schedule to tell us more about Cure Thrift Shop and its retail mission.
DeDe Sullivan: First off, how did you get the junk bug? We understand you are a fourth-generation thriftie?
Liz Wolff: I am a fourth-generation garage saler/garbage picker. My mother dragged me around to garage sales in our small community in Rockaway Beach, Queens, every Saturday morning for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I didn’t realize that my friends didn’t rearrange furniture in the middle of dinner or move mirrors, art and tchotchkes around each week to make room for the new “finds.”
I didn’t necessarily love it, but it was all that I knew. When I was 17 years old, I moved into my own apartment in Manhattan and began attending Hunter College to study stage design. That’s when my obsession began. In between classes, I scoured all of the Manhattan thrift shops to find items to decorate my apartment. I learned the bulk garbage collection nights in my neighborhood and would run around, moving chairs, lamps, seven-foot Christmas soldiers—anything that I could find—into my tiny, third-floor walk-up studio. I lived for the thrill of the hunt.
Sullivan: We are kindred spirits. I memorized the garbage collection schedule for the entire West side. Why did you start Cure Thrift Shop?
Wolff: I realized pretty quickly that I was finding extremely valuable merchandise in the local thrift shops and in the garbage. Without any training in antiques and collectibles, I turned to eBay to learn the value of items. I would constantly visit the “completed listings” section on eBay and search keywords like “vintage T-shirt” and “Mid-Century chair” and sort the listings by highest price first to find the most sought-after and valuable items. At 19 years old, I began to sell my finds on eBay.
Although I held “regular” jobs at the 92nd Street Y and Origins during the day, I spent my evenings for the next two years making eBay my focus. I eventually started selling stuff for my friends and neighbors in my building for a commission of the final sale price. Coming from a business-driven family, I knew that I had to take my passion for buying and reselling further than my laptop and eBay. I wanted my own storefront. But, I had to be realistic. As much as I loved thrifting and was good at it, I knew absolutely nothing about the business behind running a thrift shop.
In December of 2005, I applied to one of Manhattan’s top non-profit thrift shops to become its store manager. I worked there for a year and a half, learning everything that I possibly could about the charitable thrift industry. In the spring of 2007, I decided that I was ready to open my own shop. As a Type 1 (juvenile) diabetic since age 11, there wasn’t a second thought about opening a thrift shop to benefit juvenile diabetes research. At 23 years old, I incorporated, took a deep breath, and began my journey. Exactly one year later, in July of 2008, Cure Thrift Shop opened its doors on East 12th Street.
Owner Liz Wolff set up Cure Thrift Shop to feel homey and cozy. We think she did a great job.
Sullivan: I can tell that you really love what you do. The store is so warm and inviting. Plus you really have fantastic merchandise in the store and online. Do you edit what gets sold here?
Wolff: We absolutely edit what gets sold at Cure Thrift Shop. We receive thousands of incredibly generous donations each year, but we are occasionally forced to turn down items. We sift through every single donation carefully to ensure that our customers are purchasing clean, quality merchandise.
Sullivan: Is the entire inventory only from donations?
Wolff: Ninety-eight percent of the merchandise at Cure is donated. My sister and my mother still enjoy their Saturday morning routine at garage sales. But now, they bring their finds directly into the shop and not into their homes. I like to say that the store has been our “cure” for the thrift obsession.
Sullivan: Do you have an overall retail and pricing philosophy for Cure? How do you determine pricing?
Wolff: We don’t have a set pricing system like “vases are $3, dressers are $19.99, etc.” We like to make everything extremely affordable, but profitable for the shop. Most of our items are researched on WorthPoint’s Worthopedia and eBay. These are both extremely reliable pricing sources because they let us know what merchandise is actually worth to buyers and what they are willing to spend. Then, we generally price items a bit below that level. Occasionally, I will throw more valuable pieces onto the floor for a very low price to let a fellow thrifter have the ultimate “find.” I think of it as thrift karma.
Sullivan: I love it! Every thrift store should put a little thrift karma out there! How do you define success at Cure?
Wolff: Success is working towards our mission to cure juvenile diabetes and the atmosphere that we work hard to create here in the shop. We try to make the store feel like a dream or a memory. All of our furniture and collectibles are set up like real-life homes and not neat, squeaky-clean showrooms. You will often find us sitting on a couch, chatting with our customers with a cup of coffee, as if we were in our own homes, catching up with friends. The store is my entire life. It’s my home.
Sullivan: How do people find you? How do you promote the shop?
Wolff: We have not advertised Cure Thrift Shop at all. We have solely relied on word of mouth and our blog. We blog daily on Tumblr and are about to reach 20,000 followers, gaining 100-200 new followers each day.
Sullivan: Your Tumblr page is a lot of fun. The images are great and it really captures the spirit of the shop. This leads me to ask, who is your customer?
Cure Thrift Shop is located in NYC’s East Village in a whopping 6,000 square foot space.
Wolff: Our customer is literally everyone. From junior high school girls looking to buy Forever 21 dresses for a few bucks, to little old ladies who are looking for Capodimonte, to recent college grads looking to spruce up their converted two-bedroom share, to A-list celebrities. We have them all. Since we have such a huge selection that is so easy to navigate, we literally have something for everyone. Often times, people do not even realize that they have wandered into a thrift shop. On the clothing floor of the shop, our merchandise is hung on wooden hangers. Customers will often ask if we have a particular item in a different size or color, as if we are J. Crew or the Gap. It makes us giggle and feel proud about what we have created.
Sullivan: What was the “oddest” thing you ever sold?
Wolff: We have sold plenty of “odd” things. But, the standout item was a book. No, not just any old book. A woman who had recently lost her boyfriend approached me in the shop. She asked if we could come by and pick up some furniture and several boxes of books. We picked everything up and brought the donation into the shop. Since there were so many boxes of books, we were not able to get to them all immediately. After about three weeks, we got around to pricing the last box. As I lifted one book out of the large cardboard box, I noticed that it had a little heft to it. I opened the book to discover that the pages were carved out to house a 9mm handgun. Of course, I immediately turned it into the police and spent the next two hours being interrogated about my discovery at the local precinct.
Another store vignette that features what we and guarantee is not one of Santa’s reindeer.
Sullivan: Yikes! And I thought you were going to say you had a first edition “Gone With The Wind” with the original book jacket. Do you sense any upcoming vintage trends brewing? Do your customers come in asking for a specific style?
Wolff: The items that we are selling the most of right now are industrial pieces. Old, heavy floodlights, tin boxes, old tools, etc. The industrial look is really in right now. I am really enjoying this trend because I’ve loved decorating with these objects for years.
Sullivan: What vintage trend that is not really happening now would you like to see bubble to the surface?
Wolff: I would love to see younger people decorate with arts and crafts pottery more. Just a few simple pieces added to the Mid-Century/industrial look can really add something special. I often try to incorporate older pottery into these scenes, but most people just don’t get it. I think that they would prefer a modern Jonathan Adler vase to a Roseville any day.
Sullivan: Personally, I have both! OK, if you had to pick another career what would it be?
Wolff: As a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Thinking about it now. I guess that’s what led me on my path because the “thrift hunt” is just like an archaeological dig. If I could choose another career, I would absolutely be an archaeologist.
Sullivan: Thanks Liz and happy holidays to you and the entire Cure team!
In a holidaze and need a few more gifts? Visit Cure’s online shop or stop by 111 East 12th Street, NYC, NY 10003. Store hours are Monday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Contact them at 212.505.7467 or via e-mail at Info@CureThriftShop.com.
DeDe Sullivan is a retrophile with a particular fondness for junktiques; discarded vintage treasures whose aesthetic worth far exceeds its monetary value. Her blog, VintageandFlea.com, documents her junking and antiquing adventures. This includes sharing her favorite places to score unique items, the history behind unusually finds, along with display and upcycling ideas. Have a question or story to tell? Shoot her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org!
WorthPoint—Discover Your Hidden Wealth