Philly AIDS Thrift shoppers share what brings them in to the beloved, unique social enterprise


Philly AIDS Thrift has all kinds of patrons: teachers, tourists, college students and on occasion, celebrities like singer Miley Cyrus and Eagles players.

As manager and longtime employee Adam Proctor puts it, the nonprofit thrift store attracts “every kind of person ever.”

Located at 710 South 5th Street, Philly AIDS Thrift has an eclectic, artsy feel and a mission-driven focus. The store is a safe space for LGBTQ+ folks and to date it has donated $4.6 million to local organizations, primarily AIDS Fund, which provides emergency assistance to those living with HIV and funds 21 agencies in the region.

The Philly AIDS Thrift storefront. Photo by Matthew Bender.

Philly AIDS Thrift clearly isn’t your typical thrift store, and with 18 years in business, it’s a South Philly staple. Over the years, Proctor and co-founder and executive director Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou have gained industry insight into the evolution of thrifting and thrifters.

Kallas-Saritsoglou says thrifting has garnered popularity with the help of social media, attracting a new base of shoppers. “Thrifting became more cool, more popular, so then you would see more college students, or people you wouldn’t normally see at a thrift store,” she says.

Social media has also attracted dealers who buy merchandise to resell on their own online shops. There are shoppers looking specifically for vintage items or collectibles, too.

Saturdays bring tourists to the shop, but during the week, most patrons are locals looking for a bargain. Teachers buy books for their classrooms and parents buy children’s clothing from the $1 bins.

“They leave happy and they tell us about all the great stuff they got,” Proctor says.

Some folks come in and shop as a mental health practice, a way to decompress, Kallas-Saritsoglou says. There are also the regulars who stop by mostly to chat.

“We know them. We know their lives. It’s very communal,” Kallas-Saritsoglou says. “That’s what keeps people regular and keeps them coming back, because we genuinely care about them.”

Here are the stories of a few folks who stopped by Philly AIDS Thrift on a recent Saturday — and the reasons they thrift:

Tina Starfield, 38
Children’s book scout

Tina Starfield, of South Philly, has been thrifting for as long as she can remember. She grew up in southern Maryland going to yard sales and thrift stores with her mother, who thrifted for affordability and sustainability reasons. When Starfield got to college, she thrifted clothing to alter her look.

“In college, it was probably more [about] trying to be cool,” she says.

Now the mother of a toddler named Novah, Starfield is back to thrifting as a cost-saving measure. She can save money buying children’s books at Philly AIDS Thrift rather than Barnes & Noble. And when Novah outgrows a selection of titles, Starfield can simply donate them back to the store again and stock up on new stories, she says.

“There’s perfectly good books here that cost $1 and my daughter’s going to read them and then give them to somebody else. I just find it so much more practical and cheap to [thrift them] instead.”

Tina Starfield. Photo by Matthew Bender.

Cheryl Wall, 63
Expert gifter

Cheryl Wall, of Germantown, describes herself as an “expert, creative” thrifter. “Half my house came from a thrift store,” she says. Wall thrifts furniture for her home and decorations to make handcrafted wreaths to sell at Christmastime.

Since becoming a caregiver for family members, Wall mostly comes by Philly AIDS Thrift to relax. When she does make purchases, they’re usually for others. Knowing she has an expert’s eye, family and friends will ask her to be on the lookout for certain items on her shopping trips.

She’ll also pick up items that might help elderly neighbors like shower chairs, wheelchairs and walkers. The staff now puts these products aside for Wall and gives her a call when they’re donated.

“The people are really nice here,” Wall says. “They’re very helpful.”

Cheryl Wall. Photo by Matthew Bender.

Chase Doyle, 37
Seasoned pro
Chase Doyle, of Center City, first got into thrifting in Philly about 20 years ago. He would take the Regional Rail in from Bryn Mawr College and visit the shops along South Street.

Thrifting was a social activity and also a convenience when it came to finding clothes that fit properly and aligned with his gender expression. As a transgender man, Doyle says Philly AIDS Thrift created a space where he felt comfortable shopping for men’s clothing even before he transitioned.

“It was a lot easier to find vintage things that were in my size,” Doyle says. “Otherwise, I’d need to go to Banana Republic and pay like $50 for a pair of pants. It ended up being both cost-saving, but then also a way of finding more of a style that was less reliant on what’s immediately trendy.”

Today, he still enjoys combing through the racks at Philly AIDS Thrift and estimates half of his wardrobe is thrifted.

“My biggest tip is: don’t go in with a specific thing in mind,” Doyle says. “If you’re like, ‘I want to get a pair of black skinny jeans,’ they will have no black skinny jeans. I go in to see what the AIDS Thrift gods have given me today.”

Chase Doyle. Photo by Matthew Bender.

Anthony Nannetti, 72
Social shopper

Anthony Nannetti, of South Philly, has been frequenting Philly AIDS Thrift for more than 10 years.

“In my case, I don’t see it as thrifting,” he says. “I see it as just a fascinating experience. It’s going into a place that’s unlike any other certainly in the area, and finding everything from kitchen supplies, clothing, books, CDs, albums — everything. You name it. Eventually, you will find it here.”

Nannetti, who is retired, stops into the store about five times a week to look for items that remind him of the past, noting Philly AIDS Thrift brings to mind old five and dime stores because of its variety of merchandise.

He also comes in to socialize. Nannetti spends much of his time looking for books and has made friends with others who frequent this section of the store. He’s also particularly close with staff and volunteers — they even helped clean out his mother’s home when she passed away.

“It’s a social experience as well as a shopping experience for me, absolutely,” he says.

Anthony Nannetti. Photo by Matthew Bender.

Aubrey Loftus, 34
Thrifty fashionista

Aubrey Loftus, of Bella Vista, started thrifting as a teenager, trying to recreate outfits she saw in magazines.

“It was my way of finding fashion,” she says.

Today, she still thrifts to recreate outfits she sees on social media, aiming to be both fashionable and sustainable. She’s constantly watching videos on TikTok and Instagram of others sharing their thrifted looks and even posts finds of her own on the account @modernmisfits, including her wedding dress that she thrifted for $40, she says.

“I love how thrifting and the randomness of it dictates my style.”

Thrifting brings me peace of mind, and I think it’s something about the disorder. Finding the special things in disarray is so soothing.”

— Aubrey Loftus, Bella Vista

As a mental health practice, Loftus will often stop by Philly AIDS Thrift on Friday nights, when the store is quiet.

“Thrifting brings me peace of mind, and I think it’s something about the disorder,” she says. “Finding the special things in disarray is so soothing.”

Another benefit to thrifting is the community connection it brings. Loftus has experienced people recognizing the clothing she’s thrifted as something they likely donated, she says.

“It connects you with your community in a cool way.”

Aubrey Loftus. Photo by Matthew Bender.

TO DONATE: Bring items to Philly AIDS Thrift between noon and 7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

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