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Williamsburg Thrift Store Stroll

March 12, 2011

Say what you will about Williamsburg, but it’s still the best neighborhood for a day of thrifting. I created a lovely little stroll that hits all the best shops and, if you’re unfamiliar with Williamsburg, brings you around the highlights of the heart of the scene.

Start: Bedford Avenue and N 3rd Street

If you’re facing in the direction of traffic on Bedford, turn left onto N 3rd Street. Walk a block and a half to About Glamour (103 N 3rd). This fun little store has a great mix of both new and used items, with the front of the shop dedicated to that particularly-Asian-version-of-cute craft and gift items. Their selection of used clothing is beautiful, but it is very high end. These are the types of deals where you can snag a $1000 coat for $200, not the usual thrift store range of prices. However, it’s still fun to browse through their selection since you don’t have as much of the guilt you get when you’re roaming through an expensive store when you’re clearly broke. They do have a back room with super sales, including a table of $10 items, but when I went the pickins were slim. A big highlight of the store is their selection of Vivienne Westwood accessories, like a display of beautiful silk handkerchiefs and a funky collection of tights . Awesome!

Pit stop: Be sure not to miss About Glamour’s next-door neighbor, Mast Brothers Chocolate (105 N 3rd). I love supporting local chocolatiers, and these guys are particularly fun and tasty. The tasting room is open Thursday and Friday from noon to 7pm and on the weekends from noon to 8pm. Sample their unique flavors (from classic wine, citrus, and fruit notes to the more Brooklynesque of tobacco) while watching the production a few feet away. Then, stress over whether to choose a bar ($7) based on its taste or freaking adorable packaging.  I ended up with the Madagascar, a 72% chocolate with notes of blood orange, raspberry and red wine, but I’m still thinking about the Almonds and Sea Salt bar with the wrapper printed with navy and red anchors.

Another pit stop: In the style of sifting through used things, head across the street to Book Thug Nation (100 N 3rd), a near-perfect used bookstore. The prices are right, the selection is impressive for its small size, and the atmosphere (with the tribal masks on the walls, free coffee and tea, and record player in the corner) is spot on. I also enjoyed that they have a corner packed with zines.  All that’s missing, really, is a book store cat.

Okay, now that we’re back on track, head back to Bedford Avenue, cross to the other side of the street and turn left. On this block, you’ll find Viceversa (241 Bedford).  To me, this store is the epitome of what a thrift store should be. It has that funky vibe to it, and a great selection of clothes and accessories that really gives you the thrill of the hunt. Not every item here is a hit, and in a thrift store, I don’t think that should be the case. But, while you’re sorting through the crazy clothes you’ll still find plenty of pieces that catch your eye. The best part? You’ll be hard pressed to find something over $30. This also has the biggest selection of vintage of any of the stores on this list. I had a magic moment here a few years ago when I snagged a pair of red and white polka dot BCBG heels for $10 (only to discover when I got home that in my excitement I didn’t realize they were actually a size or two too big on me), and it’s moments like that why I love to go thrifting.

Pit stop: A few stores over is one of my favorite stores ever, Whisk (231 Bedford). This kitchen supply store is simply perfect, full of both your basic needs and things you never knew you needed. It’s also incredibly cute. Try not to squee while roaming through this store. Go ahead, I dare you.

Another pit stop: Need a coffee break? Cafés are a dime a dozen in Williamsburg, but I’m a fan of Vittoria’s up the street at 166 Bedford. I found them through a Tenka deal, and really enjoyed my experience there. (Tip: When headed to Williamsburg, be sure to check out Tenka beforehand. It’s this great coupon site, and they usually have a great selection for Williamsburg deals.) The prices were what you’d expect them to be, which (unlike cafés) is a rare site in Williamsburg. (The least expensive was a small house coffee for $1.25, the most expensive was a large latte at $4.) It’s small, but not crowded and has more of a true coffee shop feel, rather than a place where you go to be seen.

Now that you’re recharged, turn right on N 9th Street until you get to Driggs Avenue. There’s a fun cluster of shops here to check out. First up, my favorite of the walk: Buffalo Exchange (504 Driggs).  I haven’t checked out any of their other stores, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their Williamsburg outpost is one of their best. This is a thrifting gold-mine, so prepare to have your mind blown! There are tons of big-name brands here for unbelievable prices, along with a great selection of boutique pieces. (If you’re a thrifter who’s suspicious of sanitary stores, this may not be the spot for you.) This trip, I found two Calvin Klein dresses for $30 each, a denim Ralph Lauren blouse for $20, and a Thakoon skirt for MOTHEREFFING NINE DOLLARS. (That skirt came home with me. Duh.) And those were just the clothes I tried on.

Pit stop: Right below Buffalo Exchange is Junk (197 N 9th), an awesome antique store full of vintage furniture, retro kitchenware, and plenty of other goodies to explore.

Head North on Driggs and right up the way is Monk (496 Driggs). This store may have suffered from being visited right after Buffalo Exchange, but I wasn’t a huge fan. The atmosphere is amazing, but I didn’t like the selection. It was a bunch of no-name thrifting and wacky vintage that wasn’t my style, and I thought everything was way overpriced. It’s hard not to be turned off when you look at an ugly no-name denim jacket for $35 when you just saw a Free People blazer for $20 down the street. I’ve blown through it in a similarly disappointed manner before in the past, but it’s worth a run-through since you’re right there anyway.

Continue North on Driggs. Ogle the totally out of place Russian Orthodox Church. If you’re feeling a pit stop, keep going until N 12th Street where you’ll see McCarren Park, which is a great place to sit and relax. If not, turn left on N 11th Street. Walk two and a half blocks to Beacon’s Closet (88 N 11th). Now, I don’t know exactly why I have beef with Beacon’s Closet, but I have beef with Beacon’s Closet. But, they’re all famous and what not, so I knew I had to include it. They have the other shops beat in terms of the size of its collection. It’s a huge store, but I’ve always left there empty-handed. (I don’t think I’ve ever even tried something on). I guess part of the reason I’m not a fan is its attitude. All of these other stores are really friendly and laid back. Beacon’s definitely has that pretentious ‘tude that many associate with Williamsburg. Also, they sort everything by color, and that just really messes with my browsing flow. It takes the spontaneity out of it and bores me. And I think they overprice everything. Sure, it’s still less than what you’d find at the stores, but much higher than what you’d expect from a thrift store, especially since it’s usually mall brands and high street, rather than designer and boutique. Think of Beacon’s more as a huge sale rack rather than a thrift store.

Pit stop: The Brooklyn Brewery (79 N 11th)  is right across the street. You can take a tour on the weekends, and there’s a happy hour on Fridays from 6-11pm.

Go back to Bedford and turn left. If you’re satisfied with your thrifting experience, this could be the end of your stroll. However, if you were shopping with a specific piece in mind and didn’t luck out in the other stores, I’d check out the Salvation Army at 176 Bedford. Since this is Williamsburg and all, the donations are a little bit higher quality than you’d usually expect at the Sal, but the prices are still super low. It’s worth a browse. For example, my goal for my last trip was to find a jean jacket that didn’t make me look like a lesbian truck driver and was under $10. The ones I found at the other stores either weren’t tailored the way I was hoping, or were too expensive. (Like in Beacon’s, where it didn’t have any tags but was still $20…that’s just against all thrift store rules!) But, I stopped in at Sal’s and found the jacket that was pretty much exactly what I had been imagining, and it was $6.

Now, you’ve worked hard today. How about checking out some of Bedford Avenue’s best happy hours?  Or, do as I did and take a little stroll to the Alligator Lounge (600 Metropolitan Avenue), an awesome dive bar where you get a free personal pizza with any beverage order (draft beers $4-6).

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