You should have heard me squeal when I saw the media shelves at Housing Works Thrift Shop on 9th Avenue today.
I love shopping at second-hand stores and flea markets because you never know what you're going to find. One day a store might be a wasteland of junk, and the following day might yield a bunch of treasures. Today was one of the good days!!
A selection of the Broadway Treasure I've collected...
First thing I saw was a World Souvenir Program from Wicked, ginning greenly up at me. I'd seen these for sale for $18 or $20 before, but never owned one. I flipped this one over (hi, Elphaba!) and found the price tag; $6. I'll take it!!
Next, the CD section. The first four or five shelves I scanned offered nothing I wanted. But then: jackpot! Seven Broadway cast albums, three of them sealed and the others in excellent condition, all in a pretty little line. The Addams Family, The Sound of Music, Avenue Q, Wonderland, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Carols for a Cure 1999, and a selection of highlights from the symphonic international cast recording of Les Miz. I double checked the plaque on the wall above: "CDs: $1". I added all seven to my cart! Then on my way to the register, I passed an armoire stacked with books; sitting right on top was a like-new copy of "Without You," the memoir by Anthony Rapp (which later was developed into a one-man show for NYMF). $3! I'd already read it, but I'd loaned it out and never had it returned. Come home with mama, little book, and live where you'll be loved!
I half-expected the cashier to call me out on the noticeable theatrical theme of my purchases, but he didn't bat an eyelash. And it only took me a second to realize why: this wasn't unusual fare for this store.
Located on 9th Avenue between 49th Street and 50th, this Housing Works location is smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood known as "the dance belt," a sliver of Hells Kitchen known for affordable, Broadway-adjascent apartments, populated by a plethorca of chorus girls and boys. Surely those who work in the Broadway biz are fans of musical theatre, and of course they have access to merchandise from the shows that employ them. But - like the rest of us in New York City - their apartments can only hold so much. So, once those cast albums are uploaded or that book read through... make way for the next ones. And drop the old ones off just down the street, at Housing Works - where they can find their new owner: me!
Or YOU. I get to Housing Works at most once a week, and they get new stock in every day, so feel free to go clean 'em out as often as you want. Super bonus for vinyl collectors: there are always boxes and boxes of LPs, many of them cast recordings with beautiful covers. Even if you don't have a record player, they make beautiful decorations for any Broadway lover's wall!
Housing Works (which has 12 locations in NYC) isn't the only place to find gently-used theatre memorabilia. Enthusiasts live, and donate, to thrift shops all over New York City. The Salvation Army store on 21st & 8th has yielded me many Broadway show t-shirts, mugs, and even a pristine set of Playbill-logo glass tumblers. There's a Good Will on 24th Street where I once saw a Phantom of the Opera window card signed by the entire original cast. And just a couple of weeks ago, I scored huge at the Hells Kitchen Flea Market on West 39th Street: for $20, I bought a gorgeous solid wood box with a brass plate reading "SPAMALOT". Inside: a beautiful compass, inscribed as follows: "FIND YOUR GRAIL - The Shubert Theatre - March 17, 2005". This was an opening night gift for the cast; probably fewer than 50 were ever made, and they were never available for sale to the public.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention stoop sales, estate sales, multi-family "garage" sales (have you ever seen one in an actual garage in New York City? I haven't!). Check Craigslist to find out who's selling their old stuff on an upcoming weekend, and make a day out of hitting a bunch. I've gotten some amazing books, obscure cast recordings, random tchochkes like keychains and pins, and lots & lots of Playbills at sales like these. The best thing about buying this way is that you can usually negotiate the price down to just a few dollars, since the (former) owners are eager to sell.
The official Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction, held every September in Shubert Alley, is the ultimate spot to grab low-price merchandise from your favorite Broadway shows. (I recommend showing up early, with more cash than you think you'll need!) But the rest of the year is not dead time for price-concious Broadway collectors. Whether you're shopping Housing Works; The Salvation Army or The Good Will; flea markets; "garage" and estate Sales; or a local shop like Vintage Thrift on 3rd Avenue or Angel Street Thrift on 17th Street... do yourself a favor and check out the shelves! You never know what treasures you might find.