Of The Closet Thrift Shop and Foundation: The Beginnings
The brain child of Edward Maloney in late 1985,
Out Of The Closet Thrift Shop and Foundation had a difficult birth. After joining with three friends in 1986, the incorporation
process ran afoul of an IRS agent who said, "The words 'AIDS' and 'charity' don't belong in the same sentence."
With Senator Patrick Moynihan's help, the group successfully overcame such personal, official and institutional bias and incorporated
in 1987 with not-for-profit status. Even with legal charitable status and encouraged by the likes of Andy Warhol, Vito Russo
and Allen Ginsbeg, they found themselves completely unsuccessful at convincing the then major AIDS organizations (GMHC, AMFAR,
etc.) to join or support this idea or community funders to sponsor the novel concept: a public thrift shop to benefit established
AIDS organizations. Maloney and friends scraped, borrowed, and begged enough money to open the actual shop in June 1991.
Even the Mayor of New York, David Dinkins, accepted an invitation to the opening of Out Of The Closet, the first thrift shop
devoted to AIDS anywhere.
"We'll always be thankful to opera singers Jessye Norman and Peter Kazaras for their
faith and financial help in the very beginning," says treasurer Richard Kowall, who also notes enthusiastically, early
supporters included journalist Andy Humm, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and his collector pal Sam Wagstaff, singer and
activist Michael Callen, dancer Robert La Fosse, actor Harvey Fierstein, Doctors Emery Hetrick and Damien Martin,
fashionista Andre Leon Talley, and Father Mychal Judge,--who once showed up with two vans filled with dry cleaned clothing!
Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein donated racks and fixtures set on a slate floor provided by neighbor Mario Buatta. Maloney remembers
"the brilliant Tom Stoddard was a loyal, charming and gorgeous supporter, the type that always made us feel we were
doing something very special." And they don't want to forget Susan Horowitz of Newfest film festival,
who arranged a major donation drive at the Bombay Cinema on 57th Street the very first year.
From the first month,
Out Of The Closet held its own against neighboring older and very established thrift shops. "Easily the most charming
of the lot" (Newsday) and "Best Thrift Shop of New York" (New York Magazine) by specializing
in fine art, books (more than 10,000!), men's clothing, recordings (more than 3,000) and carriage trade bric-a-brac (Limoges,
Meissen, Steuben, etc.) instead of being dominated by women's clothing like the other thrifts. This was due both to benefactors
such as Robert Woolley, a vice president of Sotheby's, who steered many grand donations to what he said was "a shop which
would recognize, appreciate and utilize them to help others," and to the shop's staff, including many retired museum
professionals, who presented donations in a cultured and sophistocated manner worthy of a gallery or antiquarian establishment.
Nestled in an 1830s farmhouse with a backroom in an adjoining 1840s stable, Out Of The Closet won attention from media
far and wide: "The clutter is top drawer" (New York Times), "The creme de la creme" (Joan
Hamburg, WOR Radio), "perhaps the best charity store ever" (The Georgetowner) and was featured as
preferable shopping to Bergdorf's, Saks, Armani, and Versace on Globe Trekker, a PBS travel series, which has been
shown on five continents. The store was also listed and recommended by numerous guidebooks from France, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia,
and Japan, to name a few, and was the only thrift shop to ever be listed in the International Directory of Arts.