Photos: Jennifer Ortakales
When two boisterous, tattooed managers gleefully welcome you into their South End thrift store offering wine and singing along to the Beach Boys and Elvis, you’ll want to stay a while. The eccentric duo is the personality behind Boomerangs Special Edition, a high-end version of the non-profit stores selling previously owned clothing to benefit the AIDS Action Committee (AAC) of Massachusetts.
“This rag-tag band of kids is starting to do things!” says store manager, Bruce Brown. He and his assistant manager, Tzivia Halperin, might be the happiest retail employees in all of Boston.
“Ethically I feel really connected to the mission,” says Halperin. “We’re making sales for something that’s worthwhile.”
AAC of Massachusetts started Boomerangs thrift stores 15 years ago with its first location in Jamaica Plain. According to Boomerangs’ operation manager, Ciarra Latimer, the local chain “returns several hundred thousand dollars each year to support the work of AIDS Action.” These wellness and prevention services include testing, counseling, advocacy and community outreach across New England. In 2010, Boomerangs expanded to four locations with its South End “special edition” on 1407 Washington Street.
“What I love most about this store is the vibe we keep here,” says Brown. Their atmosphere combines the customer service of a luxury hotel and the familiarity of a family-owned diner with the fashion sense of a Newbury Street boutique. They know their regulars by name and often, by dog.
“Thursday, five to seven, we know 90 percent of the people who come in,” says Brown. Locals mosey in after work on Thursdays to grab a glass of wine and receive 10 percent off their purchases.
John Wierszbowski comes in to avoid rush-hour and usually leaves with something, like a Dolce & Gabbana scarf he once found for $26. He’s been shopping Boomerangs stores since 2010 and says this location’s staff has a particular élan. “I’m sure there are some days that drag, but I’ve never seen it!” he says.
Ethel Carter-Jones used to shop mostly on Newbury Street, but since starting a family she’s been looking for more bargains. “I’m an addictive shopper, so I really heard it call to me,” she laughs. Today, she left her mother and sons in the car to “order food,” but stopped inside Boomerangs on her way for just a peek. “I always leave with something.”
When one customer shows Halperin a black dinner jacket he’s trying on, she doesn’t hold back. “Yeah, it’s too short,” she tells him. “And it’s funny because it’s a little baggy around parts and the shoulders are hanging down a little but then the sleeves are too short. No, that’s not gonna cut it.”
“His arms were flappin’ like spaghetti in the wind in that jacket!”
Halperin loves talking to people and feels it’s her obligation to give customers uninhibited style advice, especially since she doesn’t work on commission. “We will never say something looks good if it does not suit them,” she says. “We’d rather have regulars come back, not buy something today and come back two weeks later because they trust us. They know we’re not going to bologna them.”
Brown is proud that his store doesn’t follow a corporate structure. “We want to be more than just a place to buy a shirt,” he says.
He enjoys hosting events at the store, often catered or sponsored by local restaurants and businesses such as The Gallows, Foodie’s Markets and Vintage Garden. “We have such amazing support,” he says.
“We couldn’t do it if the community didn’t give back to us,” says Halperin.
For anyone with a designer-label taste but a thrift-store budget, Boomerangs Special Edition has all the Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dresses and Salvatore Ferragamo shoes without the gut-wrenching and anxiety-inducing price tags. When your purchases make you feel good and help someone in need, why would you ever want to shop at a department store again?
For more information on the AIDS Action Committee and the support services they provide, visit http://aac.org/.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday 11am-6pm
Thursday, Friday 11am-7pm
1407 Washington Street, Boston, MA