Loss of affordable children’s shop leaves a void


By Barbara Caporale

The mood was somber, but the kids still had a blast, as Jane’s Exchange, Manhattan’s only children’s consignment shop, recently hosted a final thank you and get-together for Lower East Side parents and children who have depended on their services for over 12 years.

“It’s like a community die-in,” quipped Jane, the store’s 12-year-old namesake and daughter of founder and co-owner Eva Dorsey, as she and friend Nora served refreshments to their guests.

Eva Dorsey opened the business at a smaller location at Seventh St. and Avenue B in 1993, when, pregnant with Jane, as a single mother-to-be, she stopped teaching theater arts at Hunter College and realized that she needed a career that would allow her to spend more time with her daughter.

Gayle Ruskin, joined her as a partner when Jane’s Exchange relocated to 13th St. and Avenue A after the landlord at the first location wanted to triple their rent. As a mother of three and a social worker who ran the rape crisis-counseling center at St. Vincent’s hospital, Ruskin also realized that as a mother, providing a service for families with young children was ideally suited for her. “I saw it as an opportunity to spend more time with my kids, and build deeper roots for myself and my family in the community,” she said.

After a year of searching in vain for a new affordable location, this displaced mom-and-mom store now hopes to be able to reopen on Avenue C in a commercial space owned by the New York City Housing Authority.

Above, Nyima Ward, 9, checked out Yoyamart’s latest fashions.

On the last day Jane’s Exchange was open, children happily picked through free piles of clothing, books, games and toys, as their parents, who were busy reminiscing about the store, occasionally wandered over to select books, baby items and gently used and new clothing — all which the store could not afford to keep in storage without a new location having been secured.

Elmo, who goes to the Earth School, said, “Jane’s Exchange rocks and kids love it!” He had been coming there since before he could remember. “I got ‘A Bug’s Life’ video here!” he recalled. His dad, John King, a musician and parent of two, called the store “a lifesaver.”

Atticus, who lives across the street from Jane’s Exchange and is now growing into a young man, said, “It was like my second living room. I could come here after school, see my friends, get board games, and my folks would buy more stuff for me here, because the prices were great.” His parents, Rachel and Henry, 3-D animators, noted how precious Jane’s Exchange was to them, particularly in their early years of parenting.

Lower East Side moms and dads of all income levels, including neighborhood celebs turned parents, such as John Leguziamo, who grew up in the area, would donate or consign their children’s clothes and gear and get cash or credit to purchase gently used or never-used items, such as educational and play toys, videos, music, books, strollers, car seats, furnishings, clothing and other kiddie accoutrements.

Maizie Torres, who works at Good Old Lower East Side — a tenants advocacy organization — and lives in public housing, said her clients and neighbors thought Jane’s Exchange was great because they couldn’t afford to buy new things. “Especially things that you don’t use for very long, like strollers, highchairs and bouncy seats,” she said. “They didn’t want to go out and buy them new. They’d go to Jane’s Exchange, and when they were done with it, they’d consign it back.”

The shop provided jobs for salespersons and business for trades folk and local moms who make their own products that would be sold there, such as Amikole’s Shea butter products, Uta Brauser’s handmade hats and clothes, accessories and CD’s produced for kids.

The day after the closing, the remaining goods were donated to neighborhood community-based organizations: a storage cabinet to the 6B Garden; baby clothes and a new bassinet to an expectant mother at University Settlement’s Project Home who had nothing for her child; books to the settlement house’s preschool and afterschool libraries; younger children’s clothes to an Early Headstart program for children up to age 2.

In the meantime, negotiations continue over the Avenue C space. Jane’s Exchange hopes NYCHA can bring the rent down about $1,000 and has started a letter-writing campaign to Tino Hernandez, the authority’s chairperson. They are also welcoming any offers of alternative neighborhood locations.