Philly AIDS Thrift
710 S 5th Street
Philly AIDS Thrift (PAT) is a staple of the South St experience. Located on 5th Street, just below South, the thrift store emits a gravitational pull on local hipsters and curious tourists alike with its large welcoming sign, stuffed animal-ornamented tree just out front and ugly sweater-clad cardboard celebrity cutouts hanging around the front entrance.
The idea for Philly AIDS Thrift came out of a long line of successive HIV/AIDS benefit work. Co-founders Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou, Tom Brennan, Peter Hiler and Kevin Wilson all worked with various HIV/AIDS organizations throughout the 90’s. That decade, Peter Hiler launched what would be PAT’s immediate predecessor, Thrift For AIDS, also located off South St, but the business went under in 1999. In 2005, the four regrouped to begin a new store that grew out of their experience in thrifting and focused toward combating HIV/AIDS in Philadelphia.
“We’re all long-time AIDS activists,” Christina says of PAT’s formulation, “We’re also all lovers of junk … so it just made sense to us to do this.”
The store was originally located on Bainbridge Street, about a block from its current location. The building had been Peter’s storage space for another store called Book Trader when it was located on South St. Very quickly, PAT went from owning half of the first floor, to owning all of two floors to accommodate all of their donated inventory. They used a warehouse across the street to hold furniture and electronics. After six years, they grew too big for the space and moved to their current location in June 2011.
Having only a tiny advertising budget, the owners were surprised at how quickly the business grew by simple word-of-mouth. In the early years, they would host small concerts in their warehouse to make their store a destination in the area. Today, PAT hosts artist exhibitions and film screenings in their community space on the third floor, as well as speakers who engage the community in discussion on gender, sexuality, and of course, HIV/AIDS.
PAT offers a wide array of clothing, as well as books, electronics, furniture, kitchenware, movies, records, and general knick-knacks. The diverse selection is complemented by an enthusiastic staff. PAT is volunteer-based, and co-founder Christina attributes the passion and energy behind the store to the volunteers:
“I know,” Christina says, “every nonprofit is like, ‘Oh! The volunteers are the backbone of the organization!’ But they are! We attract the best people in our staff and volunteers. It’s not Tom and I sitting here saying, ‘Do this! Do that!’ It’s their creativity, it’s their ideas.”
The vast majority of the staff is volunteer. In August 2014, PAT had over 140 volunteers and just 20 paid staff. Tom Brennan estimated that the thrift store had hired over 1,000 volunteers in its lifetime. Being a volunteer-based nonprofit allows PAT to donate even more of its revenue toward HIV/AIDS relief.
As of July 2014, PAT donates $20,000 a month to the AIDS Fund, another fundraising organization that is responsible for the annual AIDS Walk and monthly Gay Bingo. The AIDS Fund distributes PAT’s donations to 29 AIDS agencies in the 5-county Philadelphia region without taking any administrative costs. To date, PAT has donated a total $871,000 to the HIV/AIDS cause.