A new neighbor joined the storefronts along Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge last month when the fourth location of the celebrated donation-only thrift store Boomerangs, owned and operated by the AIDS Action Committee, opened its doors in Central Square.
On a recent Saturday afternoon visit, indie band The Magnetic Fields piped through the overhead speakers in the open loft-like space as patrons coolly sifted through the store’s inventory. One young man in basketball shorts and a baseball cap said to his friend as he clicked through the hangers, “I want to find some fresh T-shirts for cheap.” Try $2. And if you prefer a little authenticity with your ironic slogans – as opposed to the mass-produced variety – there is a plethora of local university T-shirts, summer camp throwbacks and 90’s culture cast-offs. Where else could a Harvard freshman find an “Amherst College Orientation 2001” Tee?
A quick glance through the women’s apparel rack – all clothing racks are organized by size and color – turned up a number of designer labels, including a $7 periwinkle Betsy Johnson dress. In a special section reserved for vintage clothing, a slew of daring men’s polyester shirts, ranging in price from $6 to $10, could be found along side an explosion of tulle fabric, which turned out to be a wedding dress. Only $20, ladies.
But Boomerangs offers more than affordable T-shirts and gently loved apparel. Brand new velvet pillows, a tan corded couch, 50 matching red dinner plates, a black and white piano-inspired skinny tie, and a Flowbee – “As seen on TV” – were just a few of the items in the eclectic mix, all artfully displayed in a clean and welcoming environment.
“Boomerangs doesn’t necessarily feel like an old-fashioned thrift shop,” said store manager Elizabeth Donovan. “We try to keep it really clean, really fresh, move stuff a lot, put stuff out every day. And because of all the great donations we get, we’re able to maintain that.”
Boomerangs is housed in a spot that housed a sneaker boutique called The Attic. The only items in the store not for sale are the brightly painted mannequin heads with disproportionately long necks on permanent display on the step-like shelves in the middle of the store. The heads were donated by Barney’s in New York after a recent aesthetic display change and shipped up from New York. Donovan said there are a number of corporations in the area that often provide donations, allowing the store to stock brand new merchandise on an ongoing basis.
The community response to the laid-back boutique has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Donovan, who said the store’s proximity to the Red Line T stop brings in a lot of foot traffic. She noted that a number of city officials, including former mayor Ken Reeves, have already paid a visit and many locals are relieved not to have to schlep their donations all the way to the Jamaica Plain store location.
“It just makes it easier for people in the neighborhood, and we’ve got great stuff,” said Donovan. “And because this is sort of a nightlife kind of area, too, we’re staying open a little bit later. We’re open until 8 p.m. six nights a week. And people are coming in on their way to dinner or after work.
Or, if you’re Brighton resident Wouter Neef, 24, coming in on your way back from the bar where you left your credit card the night before.
“It’s very neat for a second-hand store,” said Neef, who was exploring Boomerangs for the first time. But, he added with indifference, there’s “not enough interesting stuff.”
About twenty minutes later, however, Neef left the store with a sheepish grin and a copy of the book “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini in hand.
“I take it back,” he said. “I just got this book and it’s great. It was only $3.” He beamed as if he'd unearthed buried treasure.
Cambridge resident Laura Cunniff, a recent Northeastern grad who also stopped by for the first time, said, “I just love thrift shops and I love the proximity to where I live.”
Cunniff said she was excited about the addition of a Boomerangs store to the neighborhood and that it was just what the area needed.
“I feel like the area keeps changing and it just keeps getting better. They’re filling up the storefronts again,” said Cunniff.
The Central Square Boomerangs accepts donations seven days a week during store hours. The store also provides a furniture pick-up service – by appointment – for larger item donations.
“If you donate and come back and see someone buying what you donated, I think that makes people feel really good,” said Donovan. “And now money is going right back into our neighborhood to support Cambridge Cares about AIDS, which is just two blocks away. So it’s just a really easy way to see, you’re recycling, you’re funding a program that has had funding cut and people also just enjoy shopping.”