Across the country, health issues and thrift stores frequently are joined, with proceeds from the stores supporting hospitals and help for individual diseases. In many cities, AIDS charities are funded by thrifts, with many offering discreet rapid testing in the stores.
The Philly AIDS Thrift Store in Philadelphia is a carnival of clothing, books, housewares and comic displays. There’s definitely a young vibe here, with humorous signs, displays and bargain prices that attract a constant stream of buyers throughout its sprawling south Philly storefront.
This is definitely a hunt-through-the-racks experience, but, oh, the low prices for a good cause. Colored tags reduce the bargain prices by 25 to 75 percent off. We scored a Lands’ End wrinkle-free purple broadcloth shirt – originally $5, but with a green 50 percent off tag, just $2.50. Similarly, a sheer black Harvé Bernard black shirt was $6, marked down to $3. A pristine black windowpane summer suit, made of Italian cotton by Talbot’s, was $14.
Items tagged with blue plastic barbs on the tags are a mere $1. The first Saturday of every month is Dollar Heaven from noon to 6 p.m. on the store’s third floor.
Total for our four pieces: $19.50, with no tax. Most clothing sales in Pennsylvania are free of the state’s 6 percent sales tax.
Dressing rooms are tiny curtained alcoves, so there’s a lot of trying on items over clothes in front of mirrors throughout the store. There also are bins with free items parked outside this eclectic store. One recent Sunday found a steady pace of donors’ cars and taxis pulling up to the door, plus an abundant number of shoppers exiting with filled bags.
If the festival atmosphere overwhelms you, head for the store’s cozy sister bookstore and thrift, Giovanni’s Room Bookstore (and Thrift), in the Washington Square West neighborhood in center city.
Its three-story townhouse is newly furnished and calm. It is essentially an historic bookstore with a small selection of better thrift clothing for men and women. Prices are higher (in the $20 range) but there are top labels like Madewell, J. Jill, Vince Camuto and Lilly Pulitzer. An immaculate pair of Calvin Klein black wool pants, original tags on, was $16.
A fantastic pair of red and white leather cowboy boots, worth hundreds, was priced at $45. There are housewares, unopened gadgets, vinyl records, CDs and, most abundantly, books. Bins of 99-cent books outside this corner store entice you and there are more of these bargains on the third floor.
You are stepping into history here. In 2011, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission put up a marker outside the shop designating Giovanni’s Room as the nation’s oldest LGBT bookstore, dating to its 1973 founding at its former home on the city’s famed South Street. The store is titled after James Baldwin’s novel of the same name.
Philly AIDS Thrift Store, 710 South 5thSt., Philadelphia, PA 19147. 215-922-3186
Giovanni’s Room Bookstore (and Thrift), 345 S. 12thSt., Philadelphia, PA 19107.
215-923-2960. Open Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. www.queerbooks.com