Four Thrifty Rochesterians Talk Sustainability, Originality, and the Appeal of Vintage
Words and photos by Andrea Westerlund
I’ve never been much of a thrifter. I grew up in a small town, so for me, thrifting was always relegated to musty garage sales and dingey church shops.
During my prime “defining myself” years, I was strutting around the mall with the cockiness no 12-year-old should possess with money I’d gotten from my mom burning a hole in my pocket. I won’t mention any stores by name lest I subject the magazine to a copyright infringement suit but, you know.
When I did think of thrifting or vintage, it always seemed counterintuitive to me. You waited all summer to finally be able to go shopping for new school clothes. It was the best part of going back to school after school supplies.
So, why would one willingly buy clothes once worn by someone else? A sh!t ton of reasons, actually.
From cost and sustainability to variety and originality, there are tons of reasons to shop vintage especially if you’re lucky enough to live in Rochester, NY, where the thrifting scene is thriving. I talked to the owners of Little Shop of Hoarders, Staple Vintage, The Style Council, and Rhoda Vintage about what’s so freaking cool about shopping second-hand.
“Everything is cooler and better made,” explains Trevor Lake, owner of the thrift/barber shop, The Style Council, which evokes a bizarrely satisfying combo of Happy Days and Johnny Cash. “I got into the style by listening to old music and seeing how those people would dress,” he continues. “I like classic Americana. What I really like is to buy clothes from the mid-60s and before.”
Modern hair tools are hidden adjacent to a vintage cash register and cardboard cutout of Elvis Presley. Trevor has been cutting hair for 10 years and started buying second-hand clothes in high school to “spend less and find cooler clothes.” He credits his grandmother’s house – “it was like a time capsule” – with making him comfortable around relics of generations past.
To me as an outsider – both a transplant to Rochester and a thrifting newbie – the local second-hand community seems especially warm and friendly. Try as I might, I wasn’t able to sniff out a whiff of competition or animosity.
“It’s not a competition,” Trevor continues. “Even though it can feel like it sometimes with people getting [to estate sales] early in the morning. It’s all friendly unless you go to the Goodwill bins. Stay away from there.” Duly noted.
The hardest part about talking to Trevor and the other shop owners was resisting the urge to ogle their outfits. These are four people who definitely know their style, which is something this writer is extremely jealous of. It took me years to figure out what I liked, and it still feels a little overly influenced by Pinterest at times, but I’m working on it.
In fact, it was during my visit with Celine George – owner of Rhoda Vintage – that I found my favorite second-hand piece ever. The brightly colored, tent-like plaid dress is comfortable and feels like…me. It makes me smile, damnit, which is something Celine agrees is important in fashion:
I think getting dressed is a really important act of expression. In thrifting, your palette is so much broader because there’s just so many more paints to use. It’s a little bit of a mystery, a little bit of a hunt. Once you get a taste of what you can find that pursuit becomes even more attractive.
Celine’s style is my dream come true. When we met, she was wearing a simple t-shirt and jeans, but she had achieved the look most women over the age of 30 crave: she looked effortless. She oozed cool without trying.
For the Rhoda Vintage owner, expression and sustainability are what drew her to thrifting. While she was living in New York City, she would sell clothes to make money to buy more clothes. She began to understand what consumers valued and what to look for when shopping to resell.
“There is so much value – embedded energy – that goes into making this stuff,” Celine explains. “The disposable relationship we have with our clothing is sad. Thrifting is a way to sort of recapture that energy back into use.”
This attitude towards fast fashion and the speed-dating-style relationship our society has with clothes likely contributes to her preference for timeless pieces. She values “function, color, and ease” above anything else and she scoffs at the gender rules that have been imposed upon clothing for so long. “No one is going to know it’s a lady’s blazer. Just take the tag out of it,” she advises.
While Trevor is scooping up last-forever denim from the 60s, you can find Celine scoping out online sales to find anything from the mid-70s to present-day. As for the specific features she looks for when hunting for a score, she lists American-made and union-made tags as top indicators of quality and ethical production.
“It’s so crazy because you’ll find things online from countries that don’t even exist anymore,” Celine observes. “Stuff that’s wearable – cottons and knits made in the ‘90s – appeal to me because it’s something that is versatile now, but it’s got that embedded energy.”
If anyone’s shop has embedded energy, it’s Little Shop of Hoarders, which opened its new location on Monroe Avenue in April. The new space exudes personality in a way that I didn’t know a physical space could.
Somehow the combination of royal blue, hot pink, and lime green walls just works. The chandeliers are epic and the plastic flamingos hanging from the walls add a nice touch. I’ve never once been in this shop when there weren’t crowd-pleasing covers of classic rock songs playing from a vintage Zenith radio.
The owner, Monika Ludwinek, always wanted to be on Monroe Ave. Her third shop finally made that dream come true.
“I met the landlord and I really liked where his head was at,” Monika explains. “You could tell that he had good intentions for people like us – local businesses and artisans. He wants to see the city thrive on people who build it and live here.”
According to Monika, the thrifting scene really started to take off in Rochester in 2019. “I don’t know what exactly made people interested, but I like it,” Monika says. “I think it’s cool that everyone can make money and it’s not a career that we need to fight about.”
One thing we can fight about: what decade made the best denim? Monika laments that anyone born in the 2000s may never truly understand the awesomeness of a pair of jeans from the ‘70s. “They don’t get it until they feel the difference,” she explains. “It’s just so much thicker and the quality is so much better. Now, everything has spandex added.”
This writer likes a little bit of spandex but can attest to the sad state of fast fashion denim these days. I will also rave day and night about the importance of finding a good tailor – a point that Monika and I agree on.
“I’ve always told people to buy it and get it tailored,” she says. “That’s one of the ways I learned how to sew. I used to buy things that were way too big, and I’d just take it in, and it was perfect. I’d mess around with adding fabric to make things bigger.”
Tailoring aside, shopping for clothes can be an emotional roller coaster, especially if you don’t see your identity represented in mainstream stores. That’s one of the reasons that Staple Vintage, owned by Shealyn Rapp, wanted to be as size- and gender-inclusive as possible:
I know a lot of people have gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia. I want everyone to know that when you come into this space, that experience is recognized and understood. I want it to be easy to find things.
Although Shealyn’s personal style is quite simple – her uniform is a white shirt, denim pants, and black boots – she explains that the shop has more range. “I gravitate toward pieces that are my own style,” she says. “But I like to grab pieces that are timeless and good quality with natural fibers. Or something that’s trendy at the time.”
The shop is open and airy and only takes up half of the space. In the other half is Stem, a shop that specializes in rare and exotic plants. Just like Trevor’s barber and second-hand shop combo, it just works. It probably doesn’t hurt that the two owners have a similar aesthetic. The walls are white, the windows are big, and the vibe is soothing.
And the space is often filled with the friendly faces of Shealyn’s repeat customers. Even though she’d only been open two months at the time of the interview, she was surprised that she’d already gotten some “regulars,” which speaks to one of her favorite things about #ROC:
I love Rochester. I grew up here. I’ve traveled a bit and I’m still like Rochester forever. The community is awesome – I make friends all the time. It’s small enough that you can run into people you know, but it’s big enough that you can always meet new people.
You can always meet new people. Whether you’re into thrifting or exotic plants, Rochester is a great place to find your crew. And while I’m still going to be tempted by the window displays at H&M, I can tell you that the thrifting community in Rochester is truly epic. I can’t wait to keep shopping!
Time to Shop
Little Shop of Hoarders
- 447 Monroe Ave
- Rochester, NY 14607
- 149 Monroe Ave
- Rochester, NY 14607
The Style Council
- 9 Canal St
- Rochester, NY 14608
- Online only
 Greetings fellow stationery nerds!
 Stay tuned on that copyright infringement suit.
 I didn’t try very hard.
 Matt Drouin of Oak Grove Development.
 “Gender dysphoria is the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics. Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health condition in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance.” Both definitions are from the Mayo Clinic.