The Great Garment Gallery

Posted in Monthly, Fashion at 8:20 pm by Pasha

Inside the greatest thrift store on earth, junkies of the clothes kind rifle through two rooms and pack garbage bags full for five dollars a pop.

This is the Garment Gallery on Central Avenue in Dunkirk, NY. , where mostly Puerto Rican Spanish is spoken and frazzle haired old ladies haunt the aisles. It is a store with thrift value greater than any flea market or yard sale. I have been shopping there since I could walk and it is still my favorite second-hand store.

My mother and I enter the store like we are children going into a candy shop with an entire weeks allowance. We grab the first of many bags and start loading up. There is always something, and usually lots of things, to buy for my mother’s seven kids and 13 grandkids. We always find enough goodies to fill a bag with clothes, purses, shoes and belts for ourselves, too.

For me, the delight comes not only in the price and the thrill of the search, but also in the vintage designer and one-of-a-kind items that weigh down the racks.

During our annual shop last week, I scored an perfect white Christian Dior button up blouse. It is as soft as silk and wears like crisp cotton. I found a lovely flirty flowered dress with a tight bodice and full skirt from the 40’s (yet in superb condition,) gold heels and more J-Crew and Abercrombie tees than I could handle.

And the best part of it all … it is only $5 for an entire garbage bag of other people’s cast offs. It is always satisfying to know that it can go into my bag and even if it doesn’t fit me, it will hug one of my sisters, nieces or my mother’s curves in all the right places.

The only thrift store rival that comes close to competing with the Garment Gallery is The Goodwill on the Upper East Side in New York. There, $10 will get you a pair of Sevens if you devoutly search three times a week. The abundance of Chanel, Prada and Burberry from the rich ladies of Fifth Avenue make half-priced tag days a designer bargain hunter’s dream.

After discovering new cities and scavenging their shops, I always wander back to my old faithful, for The Gallery holds a deeper meaning in my soul.

The building shares it’s brick walls with the Friendly Kitchen, a free soup kitchen where I ate as a child during a time when my mother could not afford to feed her brood. We lined up like fledglings with our mouths salivating and our bellies empty. I remember eating giant pieces of bread and never feeling ashamed for being poor.

Then, for only $1, we would go next door and get an entire bag of clothes. It was just as much fun then as it is today and will be tomorrow.

They may have raised the bag sale price by a few bucks, but inside the Garment Gallery’s door, there is still a friendly warm-hearted women who greets me and chats sweetly to my mother. It is still the greatest value on earth. And there will forever be the thought of who my $5 per bag might feed.


  1. Shawna Mitchell said,

    June 7, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    This article about made me cry… When I received your message today, I went straight to your website. As I sat here and read you page titled “About a Writer”, my jaw just dropped. Like I mentioned before, I knew that you had done a lot of traveling, but I had no idea. Now I know why. I sat here and showed your website to a couple of my coworkers and explained to them that you were my best friend when I was little, that we always kept in touch until we were out of high school. I told them that I knew you had been doing a little traveling, from talking to your Mom, of course… But I told them that I had no idea that you were capable of what you have accomplished and are continuing to shoot for. Now as I sit here and read this article, I was about in tears. I knew you in those younger years. When things were so hard for your Mom, raising 7 kids. I have to admit, I am so proud to have known you before you became so obviously successful. We may have been separted by many miles over the past few years, we may have traveled down totally different paths, but the bond that we shared so long ago will ALWAYS remain. It was our youth, the friendships that we had and the hardships that we endeavored that make us who we are today. I miss you girl and we will manage to meet up again!

  2. Paulaya said,

    June 8, 2007 at 10:34 am

    Holy Camoli— Shawna Mitchell, I haven’t heard about you in years. But.. I was actually telling my fifth grade class the other day that I knew a leap year baby and it was you! How funny is that? What are you doing now?


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