The Host of Hell’s Kitchen



Minas Dimitri fixes a watch in his store Thrift and New at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 43rd Street. Photo: Anna Irrera.

On a Friday evening, after a day of work, Audrey Desiderato, a 28-year-old analyst at a clean energy company, heads towards Hell’s Kitchen to meet her friends for a glass of red wine. Nothing unusual about a happy hour rendezvous on Ninth Avenue– except the glasses, which are actually plastic cups, are served by Minas Dimitri, 58, in his resale shop, Thrift and New, at the corner of Ninth and 43rd street. Dimitri, an affectionate tall man with a thin salt-and-pepper mustache, has owned the store for 28 years. He often welcomes regulars and new clients with a drink and the snack of the day. Anyone is eligible to come in and stay for a chat.

“Last year I moved across the street and I came in to see if I could find something for my house,” said Desiderato, who had come to New York from her native France, to attend the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. “I met Minas and his friends and he threw a little pizza party to welcome me to the neighborhood.”

Although she recently moved again, to Park Slope in Brooklyn, Desiderato works near Penn Station and tries to find time to come and visit the shop.

“The only reason I come back to the neighborhood is to come say hello to my friends at the store, they’re the only real New Yorkers that I’ve met. This place is very authentic, you’ll find a lot of great stories from the characters here,” she added.

Not far from the shimmering lights of Times Square, framed by Ninth Avenue’s new and trendy bars and restaurants, Thrift and New and its nostalgic look seem frozen in time, as though it were still 1952, the year it opened. The store’s shelves are packed with everything from antique pottery and used books, to old family photographs and collectible watches. In a corner, a vintage console record player sits surrounded by sets of elaborate crystal glasses.  The radio is always tuned to WCBS-FM’s “Classic Hits” and the long counter displays new and vintage jewelry at discounted prices.

A box of vintage family photographs at Thrift and New. Photo: Anna Irrera.

A box of vintage family photographs at Thrift and New. Photo: Anna Irrera.

To fill the shelves Dimitri attends estate sales a couple of times a week. “A lot of things in here have a story,” he said. “You can take an object and make a movie about who owned it the first time, the second, the third and what it meant to the people who had it.” Dimitri was born in New York but moved to Cyprus with his family when he was a baby. They returned 15 years later and lived in Queens. Before buying the store from its retiring owner in 1985, Dimitri had taken a crack at a wide variety of jobs: from cooking at bakeries, to driving a cab.

“When I got the place over here the crime was very high. People would come in, pick something and run away. Now it’s much better, the neighborhood has changed a lot, but it’s still like a small village in a large city,” he said. Customers are as diverse as the people who populate Midtown’s sidewalks during the day. Some are regulars who work or live in the area, while others are tourists drawn in by the store’s atypical look.

“I was wandering by and the shop caught my eye,” said Trudi Tesch, who was visiting New York  from New Castle, Australia. “I came back twice in one day because there’s a lot to look at. And the man is lovely! He’s just happy to let you wonder around.”

Among the aficionados is native New Yorker Michael “Mike” Zabsky, 65, a retired neighborhood resident who hangs out at the store almost every day. For his loyalty he gets special treatment: a vintage metal holder for his plastic cup.

“There’s a lot of nostalgia here. People come in the store and no matter where they’re from they’ll see something they grew up with. Something their mother used to have in the house,” said Zabsky. Since he doesn’t have a phone, Zabsky receives telephone calls at the store.

“It’s the only place where they can get a hold of him,” explained Dimitri ,chuckling.

In exchange Zabsky entertains customers with stories from his long-hair days in Woodstock in 1969, and his glorious disco nights in Yonkers.

“This is like a community store, you never know who’s gonna come in here. It’s not a Starbucks or a chain, it isn’t fancy, it’s interesting and they come in. They might not buy, but they’re interested,” said Zabsky.