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Bergdorf's of Thrift Stores Brings 'Bargain' Threads to UES

By Amy Zimmer | August 4, 2011 7:08am | Updated on August 4, 2011 7:27am
The annual
The annual "fall opening" at the Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center Thrift Shop has attracted lines in the past and will likely do so again this August.
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Society of Memorial Sloane-Kettering Thrift Shop

MANHATTAN — It's a thrift store that could only be found on the Upper East Side.

Instead of second hand clothes and cast-offs, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Thrift Shop features Gucci, Armani, Pucci and Valentino — and price tags that don't cater to the needy.

The annual “fall opening” sale, which kicks off on Aug. 10,  will likely have chic shoppers lining up down the block — as they do every year.

The Upper East Side favorite on Third Avenue between 81st and 82nd streets is, after all, often referred to as “the Bergdorf’s of thrift stores” and is known for its impressive list of benefactors.

It’s where socialite, philanthropist and fashion lover Nan Kempner — whose clothes were celebrated in a Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute show in 2006, a year after she died — bequeathed her designer duds that didn’t end up at the Met.

"People know it's going to be really exceptional,” Ellen Haddigan said of the four-day sale that attracts gaggles of early birds. "There is a sense of urgency because there are one-of-a-kind items."

Haddigan, who in January became the executive director of the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering — the volunteer organization that runs the thrift store and raises millions for the hospital's research, patient care and education programs — only “discovered” the 55-year-old annual fall sale tradition two years ago.

She was immediately enamored.

"I got my boyfriend a beautiful cashmere dress coat for $55," she said. "I've gotten some nice bags there. I wish I had known about it in the era of Nan Kempner — just for the novelty,” she added, “because I think she was a size 0."

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center was a favorite charity of Kempner, a famously tall and thin clotheshorse whose Yves Saint Laurent suits, Pucci dresses and Valentino pants hit the store’s shelves in 2007. The shop continues to be the place where high society types donate their Tiffany jewelry or Bottega bags no longer in heavy rotation.

Highlights from this year's event include St. John jackets, dresses and pants marked at $175 to $700, down from their $395 to $1,495 price tags.  Carolina Herrera dresses and gowns, tagged at $495 to $3,900, will be sold for $250 to $1,800.  

There will also be Gucci, Armani, Pucci, Valentino, Bill Blass and Escada clothes selling at prices ranging from $75 to $500. Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik and Prada shoes will be selling for $100 to $175.  Hermes men's ties will be on sale for $85; Hermes women’s scarves will cost $185.

For the kitchen, there will be Calphalon and All Clad pots and pans still new in their boxes alongside Waterford, Lalique, Swarovski and Steuben crystal.

The store has curated its donations “to reflect the best of what we have,” Haddigan said of the fall opening, which is expected to bring in an estimated $50,000 for the hospital.

The charitable store brings in roughly $1.3 million a year, Haddigan said.

The society gets great donations from benefactors, designers and stores, Haddigan said, because "the cause is such a universal one."

But she's looking to strengthen the link between the cause and the shopping.

Starting this fall, she is hoping to install videos in the shop that focus on the society's work for the cancer center.

"Right now, other than the sign outside, people don't know this is anything other than a thrift store," Haddigan said. "We want to let people know about the work of the society and why it is so important. We have a great opportunity to bring people into the cause in a significant way."

The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Thrift Shop, annual "fall opening" sale, Wednesday, Aug. 10 through Saturday, Aug. 13, 1440 Third Ave., between 81st and 82nd streets. For more information visit www.memorialthriftshop.org or call