By Gabriela Resto-Montero
UPPER EAST SIDE — Forget about Fifth Avenue, Third Avenue's the place to go for fashionistas.
Especially for those on a budget.
A slew of well-stocked thrift stores on the Upper East Side have become a treasure trove of high-end labels at below bargain prices. Knee-length Calvin Klein coats for $30, Stuart Weitzman pumps for $8 and Vera Wang Bridesmaid's dresses for $150 are all on the racks at thrift stores between 77th Street and 90th Street.
"I always find nice belts, shoes and hats, and they're not used," said Cynthia Carter, who frequents the Arthritis Foundation Thrift Shop between 81st and 82nd streets down the block from her work.
"This is the richest area in New York and sometimes people might not want to wear an old season."
High-end labels like Prada, Christian Dior, Missoni, Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein that debut at Fifth Avenue stores migrate after a couple of seasons to the roughly 13 thrift shops that serve as fundraising arms for the Arthritis Foundation, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Housing Works, Spence-Chapin and others that dot the neighborhood.
"I live around the corner so I come quite often just to look," said Helena Gelormini as she checked out a pair of boots at the Housing Works Thrift Shop on 77th Street and Second Avenue. "Today I came looking for shoes."
Just a few weeks before Gelormini's visit, the shop featured a pair of Dolce & Gabbana high heels and a pair of Christian Louboutin pumps for $100 each, according to Housing Works volunteer Corynne Pedrosa.
"We came in the next day and they were gone," Pedrosa said.
The nondescript storefronts also appeal to discrete shoppers not inclined to admit buying gently-used clothing, however luxurious the brand.
A "Designer Room" in the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Thrift Shop set off in the back of the store keeps Chanel suits ($285), Yves St. Laurent Smoking Jackets ($185) and Givenchy blouses ($95) behind a locked door.
Customers who want to see what lies behind the door have to ask for an escort.
"They're wealthy people who still want to get it cheaper, but they don't want people to know they came here," said Anita Askienazy, the store's manager. "We give them elegant shopping bags."
A combination of supporting a charity and finding high-quality items at a discount attract shoppers, Askienazy said.
Her shop funds cancer patient care, education and research; Housing Works, with boutiques at either end of the thrift district on 77th Street and 90th Street, supports AIDS research and homeless care; Spence-Chapin facilitates adoption and Cancer Care provides counseling and support to patients.
"There's not that buyer's remorse," said Lisa Purdon, manager at the 90th Street Housing Works. "They know they're helping people but they're also getting a killer deal."