From the outside, Life Boutique Thrift looks just like any other secondhand shop in Brownstone Brooklyn. Take a step inside, however, and you’ll discover that this Park Slope store actually quite different from the others. For starters, it’s the project of Hershy and Leah Mayer, an Orthodox Jewish couple from nearby Borough Park. It’s also a charitable enterprise: all of the profits go to Chai Lifeline, an organization that provides support services (including a summer camp) for Jewish children with life-threatening illnesses.
“It all started when a friend called me and said ‘I have 200 never-used vintage pocketbooks that were left to me by my late mother. Can you find a way to use them for tzedakah (charity)?’” Leah explained in her warm, soft voice. “At the time of this fateful phone call, my husband was not working because he had just sold his business. We both had extra time on our hands and started to increase our volunteer hours at Chai Lifeline. We were wondering about how to get involved with the organization in a bigger way. And when we suddenly got the call from this friend, it was like bam! Let’s use these pocketbooks to start a vintage shop that raises money for Chai Lifeline!”
Soon other valuable pieces, like Chanel dresses and Versace belts, started pouring in from philanthropists, friends, and personal acquaintances. According to Leah, they experienced a stroke of ‘divine providence’ when a friend offered to rent out a storefront in the notoriously expensive neighborhood below market rate. “We totally lucked out on that,” she said with a wide grin.
Life is now a neighborhood fixture, beloved by artsy Pratt students, long-time locals, and those who simply “get pumped by the sh*t in the thrift shop,” to quote Macklemore. Named one of the best shops in Park Slope by TimeOut New York, many of their items are sold at a fraction of retail store prices (hello, $40 Salvatore Ferragamo heels!). In addition to clothes and accessories, there are records from the 70s, loveseats from the 50s, typewriters for Hemingway-wannabes, smoking pipes, and dozens of other tchotchkes and curiosities.
Millennials and art students on shoestring-budgets aren’t the Mayers’ only customers though. Their second location further north in Park Slope curates more upscale designer pieces—think Burberry, Valentino, YSL—as well as merchandise from retailers like J.Crew and Banana Republic. This storefront is smaller and cozier, with a more boutique, high-end vibe (no knick-knacks, records, or furniture). Recently, the Mayers opened a third shop in Fort Greene, offering a combination of thrift and boutique. Despite their differing aesthetics, all stores are extremely organized with color-coordinated racks and friendly, Yelp-approved staff.
“I love that we have many Jewish shoppers,” Leah says as she waves hello to a regular customer walking through the door. “Many of them come to the store with several bags of donations after a big house cleaning. But then they leave the store with several bags of purchases too!”
Life is pretty much the perfect place to transform your self-indulgent consumerist impulses into eco-conscious, meaningful good deeds: pick up a couple of lovely 60s frocks to wear to synagogue for the High Holidays (and do your Bubbe proud!); buy your hosts a cool vintage lamp instead of the same old bunch of flowers. And if you don’t need anything at all, make a donation to Chai Lifeline. ‘Tis the season for tzedakah.