As feckless urban rich idiots (FURIs?) flood our neighborhood, and big-box stores and upscale wino-bars and brasseries move in to service them, I look back with nostalgia on the GODs (good old days). Could it be just 10 years ago that the Five Dollar Store closed its doors for good? In its heyday, it opened onto St. Mark's Place under signage with something zippy like Sheherezade or Shazzam (nobody ever called it anything but the Five Dollar Store), but it ended its existence in reduced circumstances on a neglected stretch of Fifth Street between First and Second Avenues. Filled with factory seconds, warehouse overstock and designer samples, it was a mixed (rag) bag of trash and treasure. Often the clothes had odd stiff places where John, the proprietor, had placed iron-on bandages over small incisions where labels had been snipped (a condition, apparently, of their sale). John was a big, sweet, slightly "off" guy, in late middle age by the time I knew him, with a hank of startlingly black hair that fell into his eyes as he lovingly pressed his lowly wares in a little back room. He once told me he saw himself as a kind of charity, providing low-cost work and party clothes for the poor. That made me feel a little guilty over all the cheap goodies I snatched from the racks for my own use. After all, I was thrifty but not precisely poor.
Sometimes there was pure gold on those hangers—a shipment of White Rice and Endless Knot batiks! Flax!—and I would buy a dozen garments at a time. Other times, the pickings were slim indeed, and I would buy something I didn't want just to be polite. But for a decade or more, my closets and drawers—and when she was still young and unspoiled, my daughter C's too—were filled largely with Five Dollar Store bargains. I've never been known for sartorial splendor, but I did have an "interesting" (with all the nuances that quotation marks can provide) wardrobe, one unlike that of the army of Ann Taylor clones marching off to work these days (not that I have anything against AT—I myself wear a couple of AT jersey tiered skirts). There was no "matchy-matchy" (as C would say) look to it. It was unique. Only another customer of the Five Dollar Store wore outfits remotely like mine—and only if she had beaten me to the racks.