Closing Up the Thrift Shop Small Business

| 25 Feb 2015 | 12:22

Valley Restoration Development, a not-for-profit thrift store that’s served the Upper West Side for 17 years, will soon close up shop for good. The store’s last day of business is slated for March 27.

Unlike some small businesses that have shuttered in recent years, rising rents aren’t to blame for the store’s closure; Valley’s time in the neighborhood is simply up. Myrta Maldonado, 71, an administrator, explained that the closing isn’t sudden, and has been on the horizon for some time. The shop was no longer earning enough to cover the rent and the rest of its overhead.

Assistant manager Georgina Olivo, who’s worked for the store for eight years, was told on New Year’s Eve that she would soon be unemployed.

“You can imagine starting the year with news like that,” said Olivo, 59. “It’s become a big part of my life and it’s not going to be easy finding a new job.”

In 1979, before the store opened, Valley Restoration Local Development Corporation started as a non-profit neighborhood organization with the intention of revitalizing the stretch of the Upper West Side between 96th and 110th Streets on Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, an area known as the Valley.

One of Valley Restoration’s greatest achievements came in the late eighties, when the organization helped turn a rundown landmark building on Amsterdam Avenue between 103rd and 104th Streets into what became the American Youth Hostel. In 1991, the organization God’s Love We Deliver, which delivers meals to ill and homebound residents, started renting a large kitchen space in the hostel.

Following city budget cuts in the early 1990s, some mechanical street sweeping was eliminated on the Upper West Side, but Valley Restoration managed a Business Improvement District supplemental sanitation program that helped keep the streets clean. The organization also ran a job development program.

After losing city funding, the group opened the thrift shop in 1998 and, if the customers in the store on its final Monday offer any indication, it will be sorely missed.

Frequent customer Marco Torres was doing his usual lunchtime browsing at the store on Amsterdam Avenue between 106th and 107th Streets. He typically looks for cassette and VHS tapes, along with DVDs.

“It’s a cave of wonders,” he said. “You never know what you’ll find.”

Jose Nieves has combed the racks and shelves at least weekly for more than 10 years, snagging steals on everything from sneakers and sweaters to cassettes and books. When Nieves learned that the store would soon close, he was at a loss for words. “It’s so very sad,” he said.

Elio Velez, 50, works as a doorman and for a cleaning service, and has frequented the shop since it opened, shopping for boots, coats and gloves. “Everybody depends on this store,” he said.

With only a month left in operation, the clothing racks and shelves are still lined with neatly folded and hung shirts, pants, and jackets. Book cases are mostly bare, but a few gems can still to be found, including a 1952 first edition copy of John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” A sign advertising half price merchandise hangs in the window. All leftover items will be donated to Goodwill stores.

After closing up shop next month, Maldonado, who was an administrator for Valley Restoration Development for 28 years, plans to take some time off and perhaps volunteer at a nursing home. Olivo says she’s considering culinary school.

Leonia Sagasta, 89, has been the treasurer for the organization for about 25 years, and speaks fondly of the shop. She has lived her entire life on the Upper West Side, residing for the last 50 years in an apartment on West 70th Street.

“So many people would come in to browse, chat with the girls who work here,” she said. “It was kind of a social mecca of the community.”