Retro Row, on Fourth Street between Junipero and Cherry avenues, is an eclectic mecca of trendy restaurants and hip shops selling vintage items.
The Assistance League of Long Beach Thrift & Vintage Shop has been among those hip shops for three decades. And now, the ALLB will celebrate that milestone: The vintage shop is celebrating its 30th anniversary on Fourth in conjunction with Secondhand September, which encourages people to spend the month buying only secondhand clothing.
The 2,300-square-foot storefront also has a window display to promote Secondhand September to passersby and potential shoppers. The display has clothing items with messages written with a black sharpie. A shirt, for example, says, “I cost over 700 gallons of water to make.”
“In an effort to raise awareness about the environmental impact of the fashion industry,” a recent Assistance League press release said, “we are encouraging shoppers to avoid buying new fashion in the month of September.”
Money raised at the Thrift & Vintage Shop is used to help support ALLB and its 11 philanthropic programs. Over the years, the shop has changed and grown—the Fourth Ztreet location is the third venue.
“The original shop on Locust near Third was very small,” past President Melva Miller said. “There was a tiny sales area, a dressing room with a loveseat and across the alley, inside another door, was our storage area. We sold bras for 25 cents, old lipsticks and there was no designer section like we have now. There were no racks — just bins.”
A new location on Pacific Avenue was off by itself, with little or no foot traffic. It was an improvement, but the group longed to be in a location with more walking traffic
Past President Suzzanne Nosworthy credited ALLB member and real estate expert Harriett A. Ibbetson, who died in April, with finding the current property. Ibbetson saw how Retro Row was evolving and was savvy enough to know the potential of the large undeveloped storefront.
“We had a series of meetings where we promised our membership that purchasing and redoing the Fourth Street property would take nothing away from our existing programs,” Nosworthy, who was president at the time, said. “When put to a vote, it was unanimous to purchase the space.
“The treasurer and I emptied out the bank accounts at three different banks for the down payment,” she added. “We had a small capital campaign where the largest donation was for $5,000, and we took out a mortgage of $150,000.”
At that point, the storefront was not much more than a shell; It had been an auto parts store. Work had to be done to turn it into the “Nordstroms on Fourth.”
“It wasn’t long before sales in the new location tripled from the shop on Pacific,” Nosworthy said, “and within three years, we had paid off the loan and were able to burn the mortgage.”
The thrift shop’s success, said past thrift shop Chairman Char Hart, is down to dedicated volunteers who have fostered a culture of saying, “Why not?” — and a willingness to evolve and build on past success.
ALLB, for example, was an early player in the nascent days of online marketplaces before creating its own internet store.
“Starting long ago with experimenting with selling on Craigslist to then dabbling with eBay posts and jumping into Instagram and FaceBook Marketplace sales during the COVID-19 lockdown, folks knew it could grow,” Hart said. “Last summer, we committed and recruited a core team that said yes to change. We created an (online) shop that increases revenue and Assistance League of Long Beach exposure.”
During the month of September, tag @allbthriftandvintage on Instagram for a chance to win a $100 shopping spree.
Donations are welcome from 10 am to 3:30 pm Tuesday to Saturday at the rear of the building, accessible through the alley off of Cherry Avenue between Fourth and Florida streets.
For online shopping, go to assistance-league-of-long-beach.myshopify.com/collections/all.
Editor’s note: Jo Murray is a member of the Assistance League of Long Beach.