The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Spence-Chapin Thrift Store Set to Close After 60 Years on Upper East Side

By Amy Zimmer | April 6, 2012 7:09am
Longtime Spence-Chapin Thrift Store customer Cecile Champoux was sad to see the shop close.
Longtime Spence-Chapin Thrift Store customer Cecile Champoux was sad to see the shop close.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

UPPER EAST SIDE — Bargain-hunters are losing one of their favorite haunts for old Chanel jackets, Carolina Herrera bags, Prada dresses and Jimmy Choo shoes.

After more than six decades on the Upper East Side, the Spence-Chapin Thrift Store  — which raises money for the nonprofit’s adoption agency  — is leaving its 1473 Third Ave. space when its lease is up in June after more than 10 years at that address. A second branch at East 96th Street and Second Avenue closed a few years ago to make way for Second Avenue subway construction.

For the last few years, the iconic shop has been running on a deficit, the organization’s spokeswoman Leslie Case said. It could not compete with larger nonprofits that can throw more administrative heft behind their thrift stores, like Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center or the Salvation Army.

"We're a small nonprofit whose eye is on the bottom line," Case said, explaining that the retail business proved too tough in this economy. "It’s more important for us to focus on finding homes for children in need of families."

Shopper Cecile Champoux, 67, a film producer decked out in vintage, from her birdcage veil hat to her long Asian silk jacket, gave her condolences to the friendly staff on a recent visit.

"It’s very sad," she said. "It’s one of the great stores because it had such variety and very pleasant people."

Champoux, who has been shopping at Spence-Chapin since moving to the neighborhood in 1972, was there Wednesday on the hunt for a pair of leather pants. The shop only had a fuchsia-colored pair.

"It’s good quality for a good cause," she said before heading across the street to the Cancer Care Thrift Store to see if they had any leather pants.

Elizabeth Hassett, 31, a nurse's aid from Ireland who was scoping a $5 Kate Spade pink polo shirt, recalled treating herself to a Saks Fifth Avenue fox-fur-trimmed coat for $80 and a red cashmere scarf for $5 for Christmas.

"It cheered me up because I was all by myself," she said.

Janie Johnson, who has worked at the store for more than 11 years, remembered Hassett’s holiday purchase.

"We all know their names and they know ours," Johnson said. "It's like ‘Cheers.'"

A shopper interrupted to ask Johnson if a black jacket fit.

"You’ve got a nice shape for that big coat. Find a sexier one," Johnson suggested.

"We’re always giving advice,” added Joann Broaddus, who has been working at the shop for six years. "People feel so good about coming in here. They come to see us, especially the seniors."

The staff is why Kendall Brown, 53, a production manager in the music business, has been a regular for more than two years.

"I’m going to miss them," said Brown, wearing a Grant Thomas hand-sewn tie he bought at the shop for $10. "The quality of the inventory, the pricing and the personality of the salespeople is what kept me coming back.”

Favorite past purchases include a $20 Brioni tie worth $200 and a never-worn Aquascutum suit. 

“I’m kind of a clothes addict,” he said.

A 44-year-old woman checking out a Diane Von Furstenberg dress  — the shop gets samples directly from the designer — said when she was a student at the elite Brearley private school nearby, her mom would buy her secondhand uniforms.

"It’s a values thing," said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

She continues to shop at thrift stores, she said, because “I’m anti things made in China” — though she’d be OK buying them used — and prefers wearing things not found in chain stores.

Spence-Chapin’s adoption programs trace their roots back 100 years to Clara Spence (who founded the private school named for her) and Alice Chapin (a relative of the Chapin School founders). Both had opened nurseries for abandoned children and joined forces in 1943 to build the agency that now works on national and international adoptions.

Spence-Chapin will continue doing traditional fundraising to support its work, Case said.