Thrift Shopping Downtown

Thrift shopping’s explosion of popularity is hardly news at this point; ten years after Macklemore rapped about his secondhand shopping experience, the industry is experiencing a renaissance. While thrift shops were once patronized almost exclusively by budget-conscious shoppers, today they are a popular destination for New Yorkers from every walk of life.

A recent report by the secondhand clothing site ThredUp found that Gen Z, the generation born between 1997 and 2012, did more thrift shopping in 2016-2019 than Millenials, Gen X’ers or Boomers. Much has been made of Gen Z’s concern for sustainability and independence; it makes sense, then, that they disdain fast fashion and gravitate towards thrift stores. (In 2020, Millenials caught up; today, over 40% of both generations say they have shopped at a secondhand store in the last year.)

The Big Apple, of course, has no shortage of prime thrift shopping destinations. We’ve rounded up a list of the best Manhattan thrift shops south of Central Park.

Buffalo Exchange – 714 Broadway / 332 East 11th St.

Buffalo is perhaps New York’s best-known thrift shop. Conveniently, it boasts multiple locations. The addresses listed here are for the Union Square and East Village stores, respectively.

One of Buffalo’s selling points is that they carefully curate their selections. Everything is neatly organized by the type of item, and everything is in relatively good condition. You’re unlikely to find anything at Buffalo with noticeable stains or rips. It’s a far cry from the classic, messy bargain-bin experience that many associate with thrift shopping.

The downside is that as a result, it’s somewhat more expensive than the average thrift store. However, if you’re looking for gently used and trendy clothing at a reasonable discount, Buffalo Exchange is an excellent option.

You can also sell your own gently used clothing; make a selling appointment at buffaloexchange.com.

No Relation (L Train Vintage) – 202 First Ave.

Another NYC classic, L Train is located — as its name suggests — in the East Village near the First Avenue L stop. (It has a few locations in Brooklyn as well, two of them along the L line.) This branch, called No Relation, boasts an impressive selection of denim and leather jackets.

Like Buffalo Exchange, No Relation is closer to the high end of the thrift shop continuum, with the items neatly categorized and curated for style and quality. However, the selection here is very impressive, and prices for most items are still lower than in a traditional retail store.

Tip: Around spring and summertime, it’s also an ideal place to find discounted denim shorts for all.

Housing Works – 130 Crosby St.

This Soho destination is a vintage store which sells furniture and décor in addition to clothing. Housing Works is an enjoyable experience for anyone interested in and knowledgeable about name brands; there’s often a steal to be found here in the form of discounted designer items.

East Village Thrift Shop – 186 Second Ave.

If you’re seeking low prices and something closer to an off-the-beaten-path thrifting experience, East Village Thrift Shop may be it. It’s somewhat messier and less curated than Buffalo or No Relation, but its offerings are cheap and there are great clothes to be found if you’re willing to search. They also sell CDs, glassware and other household items.

Tip: Check the racks outside for extra-discounted items.

Search & Destroy – 25 St. Marks Place #A

One of the last remaining holdouts of the punk-rock culture that once defined St. Marks Place, Search & Destroy is a unique and memorable place. Now that iconic Gem Spa bodega has closed its doors and famed punk shop Trash and Vaudeville has been pushed out of its original location, Search & Destroy is your best bet if you want to catch a glimpse of the city in its New York Dolls/Patti Smith era.

The front window of the store is adorned with a slightly disturbing —or artful, depending on your tastes — collection of baby dolls. Once featured in a Skrillex music video, the interior of the store is a sight to be seen — but photography is prohibited inside, so you’ll have to go see it for yourself.

Some parts of the store more closely resemble a museum of punk culture than a thrift store — for instance, the masterfully studded battle jackets that cost in the hundreds of dollars are there more as decoration than something to buy. However, there are also excellent discount items to be found here. They also sell a wide selection of Manic Panic hair products and sew-on patches for jackets.

Tip: Some of the best finds are on the T-shirt racks near the front of the store.

Linda J. Picard

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