MANHATTAN — A nonprofit thrift store chain that funnels its funds into organizations for low-income Lower East Siders is scrambling to find a new warehouse space after being booted from its Brooklyn digs of nearly two decades, according to the president of the organization behind the shops.
For 17 years, the operators of Vintage Thrift have used a warehouse space at 47 Hall St. near the Brooklyn Navy Yard to receive and sort donations to be hawked at their Manhattan storefronts in Gramercy and Greenwich Village.
But on July 28, they were told they need to clear out, and now have until the end of September to find a new space — which the president says is integral to the whole operation.
“The warehouse is our lifeline,” said Holly Kaye, president of the Vintage Thrift Shop Corporation. “That’s where all our merchandise is donated, gets stored, and is gone through and sorted by several people who know what we want and what we don’t want.
“It’s like a lifeline to being able to keep my stores open. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I can’t find a space.”
The shop’s tenure at the warehouse has been on shaky ground for some time, since it has not had a written agreement to occupy the space for a year, Kaye admitted. A license agreement with former property owner Eli Fruchthandler expired in August 2015, records show, and was never renewed.
Kaye claims she had continued to occupy the space as a “statutory tenant,” meaning there was an understanding between her and Fruchthandler — who owned the property for nearly all 17 years of Kaye's tenancy — that she had the right to occupy the space as long as she continued to pay rent.
When the building was sold in March to RXR Realty for $161 million with plans to renovate and convert the space into offices for creative start-ups, as first reported by Crain’s New York, Kaye simply continued to pay rent to the new owner with no formal agreement.
Two weeks ago, RXR reps slapped the shop with an eviction notice, noting the expiration of the former agreement.
But finding a warehouse space on a budget is no easy task, said Kaye, who is currently searching Manhattan and Brooklyn for a place that falls within her constraints — a size minimum of 1,200 square feet and a ceiling budget of $3,500.
“All of these kinds of spaces are being turned into artist studios,” she said, noting that renovations into shiny new workspaces are already underway at 47 Hall St. “We don’t have big needs about the condition the space as long as the ceiling isn’t falling down — we don’t need it with exposed brick walls and painted all fresh.”
Though initially granted 30 days to vacate the space, RXR has given Vintage Thrift an additional 30 days to clear out, said Kaye, who says she is still anxious about meeting the deadline.
Without an adequate warehouse space, the thrift stores will be in danger of shuttering, said Kaye — a loss that would have ramifications beyond shop closures, according to charitable partners who benefit from funds raised at the shop.
“I can’t tell you how we felt,” said Betsy Jacobson, executive director of the United Jewish Council of the East Side, on hearing the news of the eviction. “It was like the floor gave out from underneath us…She’s done such important work with the thrift shop supporting us. I don’t know what we would do without her.”
Jacobson estimates Vintage Thrift has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization, which offers services and resources to low-income locals — all proceeds from the thrift stores after rent go to the council and other similar organizations, such as the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy.
Reps for Fruchthandler and RXR did not respond to requests for comment.