All the Clothes in This West Hollywood Store Cost 2 Dollars. So Dive Into the Pile...
Paul UlukpoCustomers get into the pile at 2 Dollar Clothing.
Nothing at the 2 Dollar Clothing store in West Hollywood costs more than $2. Not the new Marc Jacobs or DKNY tops, not the BCBG skirt or the Michael Kors boots, not the Gucci, Miu Miu, Armani or Jimmy Choo — not even the pair of pants a man once found that inexplicably had $800 in the pocket. He tried to return the money, but the owners wouldn't have it.
"If you buy that for $2, it's yours. Whatever comes in it is yours, too," says Joe, who opened the storefront in October with his siblings Destiny and Alex. He describes himself as the brain behind the store.
Destiny, his younger sister, is the heart, and the one who keeps the store chugging along. "I don't care if you're the homeless guy, you can get the Gucci item," she says.
Production companies are constantly getting rid of their wardrobes after filming is complete, and they sometimes rely on contractors to do the job. And so every day at 3 p.m., a bunch of those clothes are shipped in a van to 2 Dollar Clothing.
Despite the store's Hollywood connections, the siblings running it are publicity-shy — they don't want to give their last names or ages. Joe describes his occupation vaguely as an investor. He says the store's origins trace back to a clothing contract he got in a "fluke situation" — his story goes that a guy trying to start a clothing company owed Joe money but couldn't pay. So instead, he gave Joe his contract for discarded clothes from film and television sets.
The siblings first set up at a nearby location at the corner of Santa Monica and La Brea a year ago, but it wasn't meant to be retail; their clients were charities, which would pick up the clothes to resell or donate. It was an easy way, Joe says, to at least get a tax deduction out of a bad deal.
But then regular shoppers started coming in, and the siblings decided to invest in a traditional storefront at 7713 Santa Monica Blvd. It's the low-key Russian part of West Hollywood, across from trendy Bar Lubitsch but also near old-school delis, strip clubs and a car wash. Thrift stores on the same block cater to the older, practical set — and so 2 Dollar Clothing stands out for its eclectic displays of party dresses, trendy jackets and heels.
Rather than sort the clothes and try to market the high-dollar stuff to wealthy shoppers, 2 Dollar Clothing relies on volume (though Joe and Destiny say the store hasn't actually turned a profit yet). The clothes more often than not wear the label of at least a decent mall brand, if not a designer one, and they're in good condition.
"It's like when you go to a thrift store, and you look and look and look, you find the one good one," Destiny says. "They're all the one good one."
But most of them are dumped on the ground, in a gigantic pile that people sit on or crawl through while they shop. People step on the pile on their way to the cash register.
They don't have a choice: It takes up most of the floor space of the tiny store.
"It's great because the crazy pile scares away anybody who would be fancy," Destiny says. "Like, we get rich people but not pretentious ones."
The store doesn't advertise, other than on fliers and haphazard posters designed with a Sharpie. Despite this, the pile has gained popularity through word-of-mouth. It attracts people from all walks of life: blonde housewives on their way back from Whole Foods, homeless people, cross-dressers, beautiful Brazilian models, elderly men in all-denim outfits, Latinas who barely speak English, even a few elderly Russians in giant wheelchairs.
"It's like the Chuck E. Cheese ball [pit] but for adults, and I get so many people who come and they tell me this is how they relieve their stress, that when they're in the pile — I know this is going to sound crazy," Destiny says, stopping herself, "when they're in the pile, there's nothing else, they don't have their nagging boyfriend, they don't have their job, anything — but just the pile."
Destiny is less sales clerk and more a cross between a mother, a teacher and a therapist. Her personality is goofy, trusting and sweet but also street-smart: She's skilled at breaking down rude customers with kindness.
"She's good with high-maintenance people," Joe says. He attributes this to her background, which includes work as both a talent agent and a real estate agent in Manhattan. She came to Los Angeles five years ago. Now, she mans the store most weekdays from noon to 4 p.m.
"She's so darling, she really is," says Joan Howard, a game-show audience coordinator rifling through the pile.
Later that day, Howard gets a gigantic diamond ring from the store stuck on her finger. Destiny comes to the rescue with moisturizer. She keeps it in a drawer by the cash register. "I have a guy come in all the time, like, every time he shops he asks me for moisturizer," she explains.
People also ask Destiny if they can charge their cellphones in the store's outlets. A homeless man came in and offered Destiny a free belt. She doesn't sell donated clothes but accepted it anyway.
Destiny eyes a pretty, young African-American woman holding up a neon halter top. "That is really cute," she calls out. "That is you, baby! Look at what you're wearing, let me see it, go like that, that's a good shape, too."
The woman frowns. "I have to lose, like, 10 pounds."
"Come on, you're fine," Destiny reassures her. "You're looking good. Do you know what my sister says? That you're only going to get fatter, uglier and more wrinkles, so be happy with what you got today."
Another brother, Alex, also helps at the store, along with a host of shoppers-turned-volunteers. Richard Harbert, for example, helps dress the mannequins on display. "Why do I help? Because I love it — it makes me part of the city. I love you," he says, pointing to Destiny.
The store has evolved into something of a community hangout: People make new friends, help each other shop and recover from bad breakups with a little retail therapy. Destiny claims that one customer, a woman who portrays Marilyn on Hollywood Boulevard, had given up on love until she met her now-fiancee in the pile.
Many customers are young, struggling actors who come to L.A. with few nice clothes. "A lot of shit goes down for all those people, the actors," Destiny says. "Their family tells them, 'You'll never be a success, come back home,' then they can go to another place where people are nicer. In L.A., it's hard. This is not hard, this is, like, soft, you know? You look touched! Give me a hug."
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