A secondhand wonderland is mounting a second coming in New Haven. Nifty Thrifty, an online retailer of curated vintage clothing established here in 2010, moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 2012. The idea was to be closer to that area’s huge population of vintage wearers, but with the online nature of the business, astronomical rent prices in Williamsburg and a pressing need for more storage space, Nifty Thrifty has returned home.
And it’s doing things a little differently this time: as of last weekend, Nifty Thrifty’s warehouse in New Haven features a brick-and-mortar shop. The location at 111 Water Street “seemed like the perfect place,” CEO Topper Luciani (pictured right, above) says. “We already have the warehouse space in the back.” And while it may seem like a simple matter of opening up warehouse access to the public, manager Trevor Rykowski (also pictured above) says “there are a lot of moving parts” to deal with in making it work.
Inside the store is a sea of old fashions made new again, ranging from army jackets to 70s-era sundresses with accessory scarves and sunglasses on display nearby. Designer button-downs, sweaters, eye-catching 80s t-shirts (complete with quirky slogans), blazers and boots in a spectrum of colors, sizes and designs line the walls of the one-room boutique.
The familiar perplexity of thrift shopping settles in: just where do all of these cool things come from? It turns out clandestine “vintagers” gather assorted garments for what is basically a wholesale market, mining undisclosed veins of vintage gold and delivering the bounty to Nifty Thrifty’s doorstep. From there, the staff further refines to produce the collection that goes on sale, relying heavily on “our gut” as to what fits into Nifty Thrifty’s fold, Luciani says.
“We love what we do,” Rykowski, who also doubles as the warehouse manager, says. “We pay a lot of close attention to current trends and street wear,” not just offering pre-owned clothing for the sake of it but also to sell garments that “people want to wear.” The store seems to have something for all tastes from most decades of the last century, and maybe even beyond: “We just sold a dress last week from 1890s. How cool is that?” Luciani remarks.
Mending isn’t yet part of the Nifty Thrifty business model and walk-in offers for consignment aren’t typically accepted. That’s because the garments in the Nifty Thrifty inventory have been professionally laundered, sized, detailed and photographed on mannequins or hired models for the website as well as the store, and it’s hard to fit random walk-ins into that streamlined process.
Any items found unsuitable for Nifty Thrifty are donated to charities like Goodwill. “We want to be part of something larger than ourselves,” Luciani says. While some might not think of clothing as an avenue for social or environmental progress, the Nifty Thrifty team understands the impact that manufacturing new clothing has on the world. “Billions of pounds of clothing are dumped in landfills each year,” when they could be successfully reintegrated. Even the many racks in the shop and warehouse are handmade out of repurposed piping, collected from a proprietary source in the NYC garment district.
A large percentage of the inventory focuses on women’s clothing and apparel, but Luciani is set on changing that. “Eventually we want to offer all sorts of vintage items,” he says, and, much more ambitiously, “We want to sell vintage on a scale that hasn’t been done before.” The number of full-time employees has grown from two to eight in the last two years, with more projected.
Meanwhile, for now, the new storefront is only open on weekends, but there’s no need to worry about online competition. The merchandise in the storefront is stuff “that translates better in person” as opposed to online, according to Luciani, so all inventory in the store is catalogued separately from the online business. Which is to say: if you decide you want to buy something after it’s closed for the week, it won’t be sold online before your next chance to pick it up.
Pretty nifty, huh?
111 Water Street, New Haven (map)
Written by Jared Emerling. Photographed by Xander Kane.