"I have arrived."
Language followed us wherever we went after that. Exclamations about unique finds, instructions from senior volunteers and employees to newer co-workers, transactional exchanges, song lyrics from an in-house soundtrack, and casual small-talk between friends.
Everyone we approached was eager to share the story of how they ended up coming to the space. Our general questions were nearly always met with a mention of how a common vocabulary of HIV testing and AIDS awareness, and social practice of sharing, giving, health, and survival was important to the collective space of Philly AIDS Thrift.
Watch the Video.
More on How the Interviews Came Together.
Located just off of South Street in center city, Philly AIDS Thrift is equal parts thrift store, philanthropic organization, and community center. Founded in 2005, the space sprawls over two floors, each crammed with donated clothing, furniture, toys, books, and most anything else one could imagine. Meandering through this eclectic assortment is a constant flow of local shoppers and volunteers.
The three of us visited on a Sunday, their busiest day of the week, with a limited set of questions, a videocamera, and a stack of release forms. Without any prior contact with store personnel, we had set out to boldly improvise in our field research. In the end, we discovered that a flexible method of participant observation and interviewing worked wonders. Exploring the store for ourselves at first, our initial questions became more specific as we looked through the dizzying array of merchandise and decorations.
The Local Power of Giving Back.
The store is as effective in its mission of giving back, as it is zany in its decor. Being a thrift store, the affordability of the items is highlighted, though some rooms such as the vintage room offer a slightly more expensive selection. Because of this wide pricing, people of vastly different income levels are able to shop, with an estimated 95% of profit redirected to a panoply of Philadelphia organizations that assist those affected by HIV and AIDS.
A Monument to Community.
As we headed home from Philly AIDS Thrift, the many words of our volunteers and shoppers rang in our heads, encouraging us reflect on how we came to interact with the space. Our video essay is, ultimately, a product of this – what our interlocutors shared, and what we gleaned from our own observations, all through the lens of how language is used in this downtown Philadelphia monument to community.
About the Authors.
- Hayden Kesterson is a Haverford College sophomore with plans to major in Linguistics and minor in Anthropology & Sociology.
- Jessica Lewis, a sophomore at Swarthmore College, plans to major in Neuroscience.
- Will Marchese is in his first year at Swarthmore College, where he plans to double-major in History and Anthropology & Sociology.