Everyone has a scene that makes them cry just thinking about it. It might be the end of Rudy or the unveiling of a swing for a deaf and blind kid on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Mine is this ridiculous commercial for eBay, wherein a man finds the toy tugboat he’d left on a beach one day listed on eBay by a fisherman who’s found it 30 years later. A kind voice says, “What if nothing was ever forgotten? What if nothing was ever lost?”
There’s a beauty in the idea that a cherished item, be it treasured blanket or tugboat, would never vanish and that a lost object of affection could find its way back to its owner. I relate to this commercial because I was always a lover of ‘things’ — stuffed animals, a pair of sequined shoes, even a worn T-shirt. Perhaps it’s my own romantic vision that turns the thrift shops scattered across the city into nests of lost love — but I like finding a gem in a secondhand rack far more than buying retail.
I was thinking about the commercial when I stepped into the new Buffalo Exchange that has opened up in Williamsburg, the first foray by the storied western American chain into the fashion nexus that is New York City. I’ve been to one in Texas and this store is identical — a tidy, well-lit place with a great selection of clothes. Buffalo gives secondhand ‘sellers’ money up front or the ability to trade old clothes for others in the store. Each item is thoroughly inspected before being purchased and when I was there, the wait was over an hour to get clothing priced.
But how will Buffalo Exchange, a chain thriving in other cities, carve a niche for itself in New York? New Yorkers have already created a thriving secondhand culture, being compulsively transient and having tiny closets. Buffalo won’t replace quality secondhand stores like INA, vintage boutiques like Resurrection or even the Salvation Army. It’s in the middle, selling a Victorian blouse only good for one season and thus not worth the original $40 but maybe worth $17. They have a great selection of jeans ranging from Seven to Levi’s, for men and women, priced at $20-$30. While the cheap T-shirts aren’t anything unique, their racks of men’s blazers and fitted women’s dresses are pleasures to thumb through. I was somewhat devastated to discover a pair of Chanel sunglasses for which I had paid full price priced under $20.
I even found a gem: a pearly-pink leather Marc Jacobs clutch for about $200. The attendant pulled it out of the glass case under the register and frowned. “You don’t really want this; the clasp doesn’t catch anymore.” He demonstrated. I envisioned a girl handing over her long-loved bag that had worn itself out and I smiled.