Artist Luis Martin often travels from Brooklyn to visit the Housing Works Thrift Shop in Chelsea, searching for materials to make collages.
"It's like an ecosystem, like this community really supports each other and you can really feel it from the people who work here, the people they hire," said Martin.
Martin hasn’t been able to visit Housing Works in months, so he was one of thrift store lovers who waited on line as the shop reopened Friday after being shut since March due to coronavirus restrictions.
Thrift shops provide a crucial income stream to Housing Works, which was founded 30 years ago to help people with HIV/AIDS get access to housing, healthcare, and other services.
"There was a lot of folks experiencing homelessness who were also HIV positive and living with AIDS at the time, and the shelter system was not adequate to serve their needs,” said Elizabeth Koke, creative director at Housing Works.
Housing Works opened its first thrift shop in Chelsea in 1992, and eventually added 13 more. All of them closed when the pandemic erupted.
The nonprofit has decided not to reopen three of its smaller shops, and is focusing on safely reopening its remaining stores one at a time. That includes making aisles wider and implementing new rules for accepting donations of items.
"All donations, if they are a hard surface that can be cleaned, they will be cleaned on site when they come in, so we will be cleaning them before we put them on the floor. All clothing donations will be quarantined for 72 hours,” said Cheryl Grimm, VP of thrift retail at Housing Works.
Fitting room procedures have also changed. One will be open, and customers will be required to use hand sanitizer prior to and after trying on clothing. Items that customers choose not to purchase will be put on a rack and held for 72 hours before being released back onto the sales floor.
The organization has expanded its mission to include COVID-19tTesting and sheltering the homeless with coronavirus.