Of The Closet: Since 9-11
Maryell Semal, who had been a volunteer since the first week, was most tickled
by the return customers who reminded the staff that this was where they bought their favorite necklace, ring, book, shirt,
vase, or painting... "their pleasure and satisfaction made all the work worthwhile and brightened our day." Out
Of The Closet Thrift Shop, may have been an Ali Baba's cave of treasures, but it didn't always please everyone. You simply
could never see everything which frustrated a few people. "Amazingly, some dealers got very angry that we knew what we
had--that we did research on antiques and art works," Semal continued. And frankly, sticker shock was possible until
you checked out the regular market prices for such high-end quality merchandise and collectibles.
To make their
"charitable alchemy" as profitable as possible, Out of the Closet was the only exclusively volunteer thrift shop.
For 15 years, the store gave away material goods and monetary grants (all profits after expenses such as rent and utilities)
to fund more than 70 AIDS service organizations providing hospital care for infants, programs for teens and gay adults, educational,
residential, recreational, and legal services for PWAs and high risk groups mainly around the greater New York metropolitan
area but as far away as Washington, D.C., California and Puerto Rico as well.
Yet, ever since 9/11, Out of the
Closet felt the tide changing and reverberations from the devastation. "Madison Avenue dealers and street vendors all
reported to us slower sales that have not recovered, and among our neighborhood regulars, there is growing unemployment and
shrinking fixed incomes." On the block, five large, multi-year construction sites obscured the mid-block shop from the
busy avenues, and the great Old World gentleman of a landlord for Out Of The Closet, awarded knighthoods by three countries,
became a King Lear, succeeded by a new, voracious generation. Thus, eclipsed on the block and trounced by an impossible rent
increase, Out Of The Closet could no longer make sense, or rather, cents, and volunteers could not be asked to give so much
of themselves for just idealistic good but with little charitable profit after the increasing expenses.
at Out Of The Closet, half of whom had been with the shop since it opened 15 years ago, have become great and devoted friends.
Nor has this charitable store been their only good work. These volunteers tend weekly soup kitchens, chaperone nighttime shelters
for the homeless, serve as docents at museums, guides for NYC school children, and serve holiday meals to the needy. They
promise to keep a watchful eye for other ways to help fight HIV/AIDS. "We all intend to go on assisting what is good
and right about our city and fighting the co-opting of our national interests," they insist.