*originally published in Biscayne Times (http://www.biscaynetimes.com/)
I suspected I was in the right place when, after walking into Art & Fashion Showcase on Biscayne Boulevard, just over the Miami Shores line into North Miami, I immediately spotted the early-1980s designer blouse with the Daffy Dan’s tag still attached.
Daffy Dan’s was located in my rather pretentious hometown of Livingston, New Jersey. During my formative years, which were also in the early to mid-1980s, it sold eclectic designer samples, one-offs, and racks of odd sizes for astonishingly low prices. I liked it even more because my NYC bedroom community peers shopped at Bloomie’s and other mall department stores, where the elitist-priced outfits beckoned the less, well, artistically driven. And while Daffy’s, as it became formally known in 1987, is these days a clothing, accessories, and home-goods empire with 21 stores all over the Northeast, I still browse there every time I visit my folks.
The price tag bearing the store’s older name, Daffy Dan’s, confirming the blouse as pre-1987 and therefore an authentic collectible, lent me a private chuckle. I felt an even more pleasant jolt of serendipity when I began to chat with owner Jenni Gordon, who had opened the boutique only a couple of days before I wandered in, she said.
As it turns out, Art & Fashion Showcase is a nonprofit organization. All of the goods in the store -- high-quality stuff ranging in purpose and style from an antique foot rest to a Betsy Johnson two-piece -- are donated, and profits benefit art and design students. In fact, she told me, though her grandmother and father, who had been handling the organization, had been turning the money mostly into scholarships for college-age students, she was interested in expanding her reach.
Readers of this column know by now that I’ve taken a job teaching at Miami Arts, the new charter school for visual arts, music, dance, creative writing, and drama students, located in the Design District. I’m fortunate enough to have been given two rooms in the building, one for my classroom and one that I’m making into a lounge, where I teach the kids how to workshop each other’s poetry and fiction. This is also where we will eventually run the school’s literary journal and do the yearbook. The problem is, it’s a plain white box of a room: no windows, no furniture, no relief from the uninspiring landscape of fresh plaster. So I’ve been doing some decorating. And in order to do this on a teacher’s salary, I’ve been thrift-shopping quite a bit.
For me this is no hardship. Not only do I love a bargain for good material, instilled in me from my Daffy Dan days, I have a fondness for old things -- so much so I co-authored a craft/sewing book with a designer from New York called Born-Again Vintage, even though I’ve never gone much beyond attaching a button to a shirt. Naturally Miami Shores, where there’s practically guaranteed to be multiple moving, estate, or garage sales every weekend, has been a good source of stuff for me. And at this point I’ve been to, or know about, nearly every consignment, vintage, antique, thrift, and donation shop in the area, including the North Miami Goodwill Superstore & Donation Center. Opened this past summer, the North Miami Goodwill Superstore, 11990 W. Dixie Hwy., represents what all of their larger thrift stores will look like in the future: high ceilings, brightly lighted, with clothes divided into size- and sex-appropriate sections like a department store. Plus, as my daughter says, “It doesn’t smell bad.”
I don’t care much about odors -- there’s always dry cleaning and Febreze -- as long as there aren’t any moths or other destructive insects. And yes, I have flipped through racks of “vintage” clothing where moths have risen in a fluttering swarm, and the owners just shrug (or worse, berate me) when I tell them. (This happened to me in Montclair, New Jersey, when Bridgett and I were looking for wedding dresses for our next project. We bought a secondhand wedding dress, but obviously held back on the woolens!)
For this quest, I haven’t encountered any unpleasantness. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve never had so much fun scoring funky paintings, throw pillows, and foot stools at relatively low cost. It’s amazing how generous folks like Jenni Gordon and Donna Ashby Clark of the Upper Eastside’s Divine Trash, become when you talk about teaching. Just mentioning the word “kids” got me pillows for them to sit on from Gordon, and Clark donated a large canvas in addition to knocking prices down on other, smaller pieces. At both sites, I’ve been invited to hold readings for my MAC students, which will be such a thrill for them -- and for me.
Another place I’ve been haunting, Grubstake/GIVE Good Works (givegoodworks.org) also operates as a charity organization. It takes donations of furniture and goods, for which you can deduct fair-market value from your taxes, and either gives them to families in need or sells them at its Wynwood Art District thrift store on 24th Street and N. Miami Avenue, about 15 blocks from my school. This place is a treasure trove, crammed with the history of 50 households at any given time, and it’s a hoot to wander through the ever-changing merchandise.
Even closer to my school and Miami Shores, Lotus House Thrift (lotushouseshelter.org) debuted at the end of September on NW 36th Street. Lotus House is a shelter for homeless women and children, and the shop’s proceeds go toward maintaining it. Sited in a former art gallery and done up in colors usually reserved for cotton candy, it’s also staffed by Lotus House residents, giving them valuable work experience -- the proverbial two birds with one thrifty stone. You know I’ll be a frequent customer, and not for the ovenware, either. After working in pajamas for 13 years as a freelance writer, my teacher’s wardrobe could use some enhancement. And I don’t think I’ll be getting donations for that.
Naturally, with my taste for vintage, I’ve always thought about opening a store of my own. Miami Shores Village would be the ideal place for it, and I’ve got such a collection of everything from cribbage boards to milk glass that I could probably stake it with items from my own house.
Then again, I’ve made my commitment to educate teens about writing fiction and poetry, and making them comfortable while they read and critique each other’s work -- a scary prospect for most of them. So I’ll leave it to someone else to scout the perfect location for a funky vintage boutique in the heart of our garage-sale-happy community, perhaps even during the christening of our new Village Place, scheduled for Friday, October 2.
By the time you read this, the celebration will over, but know that I was there, playing at Miss Jane’s Music Studio with the Miami Shores Flute Ensemble, using my 30-year-old Gemeinhardt open-hole flute. Which, come to think of it, is a collectible.