Life & Style

Transcending wardrobes: Second hand clothing in Syracuse

Transcending wardrobes with second hand clothing

Local businesses including Cherry Pit, Black Citizens Brigade and Boom Babies Vintage highlight Syracuse’s unique and accessible vintage scene.

Boom Babies 2023
Ella Chan
The Boom Babies sign glows behind the front counter of the clothing store located on Westcott Street in Syracuse.

Second-hand shopping and the resurgence of vintage aesthetics have become major trends, allowing us to time travel and revisit fashion styles from the past. Fashion trends are often cyclical, which explains why current designers draw inspiration from historically iconic garments amongst the silhouettes of the 1950s or the bold and vibrant patterns of the 1980s. 

In an era dominated by fast-fashion, several local small businesses share a mutual appreciation for the quality of vintage clothing.

By embracing vintage aesthetics, Cherry Pit, Black Citizens Brigade and Boom Babies Vintage are contributing to sustainable fashion practices and celebrating the value of history in the fashion industry. 

The Cherry Pit

The Cherry Pit is located within Wildflowers Armory at 217 S. Salina St. in downtown Syracuse. The dimly lit store in the basement of the old shopping corner blossoms despite its unique garments hidden from the direct public. 

Allie Panek is one of the co-owners of the Cherry Pitt. The vitage resale shop is located in downtown Syracuse at the McCarthy Mercantile.
Surya Vaidy
Co-owner Allie Panek in the Cherry Pit, a vintage resale shop in the McCarthy Mercantile in downtown Syracuse.

Cherry Pit was founded by Syracuse native Michelle Pfaff, who graduated from Syracuse University in 2021. Her passion for small business has led her to curate a reliable team, which right now is composed of three other women — Abigail Minicozzi, Lilyan Minicozzi and Alexandria Panek. 

The staff work together to source and restock items at least four times a week. Cherry Pit moves at a fast pace. 

“Our team always wants to offer customers the best quality in a short amount of time while still promoting fashion circularity,” Pfaff said. 

The surplus of clothes tends to be put in $5 bins until Pfaff tries to sell them for affordable prices on Vinted, an online marketplace for second-hand clothing. 

A trip to Cherry Pit evokes feelings of nostalgia, transporting customers to a different era through its embrace of second-hand and vintage aesthetics. The store displays are composed of rows of clothing racks generally color-coded with a selection of unisex and plus-size garments. 

At The Cherry Pit, located in downtown Syracuse at the McCarthy Mercantile, you can buy and exchange vintage and thrifted clothes sourced by the owners.
Surya Vaidy
At the Cherry Pit, customers can buy and exchange vintage and thrifted clothing sourced by the owners.

“Sifting through the racks and pairing findings with a variety of purses, shoes and ornaments are a core part of the shopping experience,” Syracuse University junior Courtney Wood said. “It serves as the cherry on top when I can curate and style an outfit that aligns with my individuality.” 

Over the course of four months, Pfaff actively dedicated all efforts to scout storefront locations around Central New York. She said she faced the challenge of curating pieces that fit her clientele’s fashion sense as opposed to her taste. 

Pfaff’s custom-made Cherry Pit tote bag has made appearances locally. Through sales from her website and social media, the small business now has a trademark that the Syracuse community can recognize.

SU fashion design junior Bella Scala noted that the inclusivity of the store and price range allows for frequent shopping visits.

“I never leave without at least one versatile piece,” Scala said. “This second-hand store is curated in a way that fits all types of sizes and styles, which I love most about it.”  

Pfaff says the clothing is inspired by a mix of Midwest styles prioritizing comfort in a fashionable manner, as well as current trends, including cargo wear, textured jackets, baggy jeans, lingerie dresses and tank tops.

Cherry Pit is open Tuesday through Saturday from 12 to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 12 to 5 p.m. 

Black Citizens Brigade

Just down the street from Wildflowers Armory, in a slightly hidden alleyway lies the Black Citizens Brigade at 140 Bank Alley University Bldg.

Cjala Surratt is the owner of the Black Citizens Brigade in downtown Syracuse. She curates vintage clothes and holds a large collection of records and books by famous Black authors, artists, and musicians.
Surya Vaidy
Black Citizens Brigade owner Cjala Surratt.
The Black Citizens Brigade, located in downtown Syracuse, is owned and curated by Cjala Surrat.
Surya Vaidy
Merchandise in the Black Citizens Brigade.
Surrat curates vintage clothes for the store and has created a space for learning about Black culture and history.
Surya Vaidy
The store offers space for Black culture and history.

This small business holds a collection of garments primarily ranging from the 1950s to 80s vintage. Owner Cjala Surratt is a driven businesswoman who has meticulously curated a collection of highly sought-after and rare garments within the vintage market.  

“My shop has brought to life a connection between youth and older people through fashion and the power of sustainability,” Surratt said. 

With the help of the Syracuse WISE Women’s Business Center, which is an organization that serves as a resource to empower women in the field of entrepreneurship, the Black Citizens Brigade opened in June. Through these resources, Surratt was able to establish connections with other women business owners. 

The store’s alleyway location, which previously relied on social media outreach, particularly benefited from connections, which turned into friendships, helping to promote the new spot in town. 

Surratt comes from a middle-class family which she says plays a significant role in the purpose of her small business. 

“Second-hand clothing was not a trend, it was part of a lifestyle,” she said. “Thrifting was instilled in my lifestyle since my youth, giving me a foundation of the value of second-hand clothing instilled by my mother. This built my aspirations to own Black Citizens Brigade one day.”

Raised in a community where trend-following and vintage fashion weren’t emphasized, she learned the value of sharing from her mother, regularly swapping clothes with her cousins. During the pandemic, Surratt and her mother bonded over thrifting, as some stores in Syracuse remained open.

The allure lies in the dedication to second-hand clothing and the world of small businesses, she says. These women, hailing from diverse backgrounds yet united by a common love for fashion, proudly own their independent ventures. 

“I am not like everyone else, ” Surratt said. “Those who have experienced economic hardship or marginalized communities are practitioners of passing down the most, emphasizing the importance of tradition and culture of upcycling and recycling.” 

The Citizens Brigade is open on Thursdays from 12 to 4 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 12 to 5:30 p.m.  

Boom Babies Vintage

The lively Westcott neighborhood located in Syracuse houses a new vintage store: Boom Babies Vintage, an addition to the original Boom Babies shop next door.

Boom Babies 2023
Ella Chan
Jewelry on display in Boom Babies in the Westcott neighborhood.

The current location at 473 Westcott St. offers a selection of prom dresses, wedding attire and casual wear with a selection of second-hand clothing.

“The vintage is a core element of the foundation of our store,” owner Caroline Doolitle said. 

Since the former owner Lorraine Koury opened Boom Babies, she incorporated her own personal vintage collection into the store. 

Boom Babies 2023
Ella Chan
In addition to clothing, Boom Babies sells merchandise
Boom Babies 2023
Ella Chan
Colorful wool coats on display in Boom Babies.

Koury’s collection spanned a diverse array of eras. Her taste in clothing was unique and her creative eye was said to be admired by those around her. She valued friendship and was a generous woman known in the Syracuse community. 

Doolittle was a stylist in New York City prior to taking the owner role at Boom Babies Vintage where she worked freelance, styling a myriad of companies in the field of fashion including Urban Outfitters, Need Supply Co. Bergdorf Goodman and Net-a-porter. She has now worked at Boom Babies for five years and shifted to the vintage scene through the opening of the new store. 

When Koury passed away last year, the Boom Babies team worked to create a new vintage store a block down from the original store.

“Koury was a vintage fanatic, her collection crowded her home so much to the point that a friend recommended her to find a new space for her stuff,” Doolittle said. This collection found its way to the basement of the first Boom Babies.

Boom Babies Vintage opened this past July and offers a wide selection of Koury’s personal collection from the 80s as well as items sourced from people who Koury had previous relationships with prior to her death. Additional items are sourced in estate and yard sales as well as local Syracuse vintage clothing collectors who sell directly to the store. 

“She started this store because she was just really passionate about collecting vintage,” Doolittle said. “She wanted to spread her love in the Syracuse community.”

Doolittle also shared that Boom Babies Vintage offers customers an affordable collection of garments ranging from $10 to $20. Clothing items from the 1900s that are more exclusive and of rare vintage value typically fall in a more expensive price range, reaching a maximum high of $300. 

Boom Babies Vintage is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 12 to 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 12 to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 12 to 4 p.m.