Mt. Airy: I Spy, You Buy Holds Hidden Gems

As one of the three curated thrift stores in Philadelphia, I Spy is shopping made easy.

Park holds a customer’s anklets while she talks about the importance of knowing your measurements when shopping.

At 8 years old, Dolly Park was already her own personal stylist. She’d go to the thrift store and pick up the most unique pieces they had to offer because the last thing she wanted was to look like everyone else.

“Some people wear the clothes but sometimes the clothes wear the people,” Park said. “When you know your swag and your style you’ll be able to put stuff together to your liking and walk with confidence.”

Thrifting has been a constant in Park’s life. As she grew older she started working at different thrift stores throughout Philadelphia discovering she had a knack for helping people find their style. But she got tired of always hearing “This isn’t Dolly’s Thrift Store, this is Circle Thrift,” so she decided to start off on her own. 

Since 2014, Park has been reselling clothing, at first out of her house, then at her own yard sales. Park kept selling out of clothing so she decided to open up her own storefront, I Spy, You Buy on October 7, 2016.

I Spy, You Buy is one of three curated thrift stores in Philadelphia, meaning, Park finds every item in her store from different thrift stores throughout the city and in New Jersey and Delaware, and doesn’t accept donations.

I Spy You Buy prides itself on its extensive shoe collection with brands like Nike, Addidas and Uggs.

Every day, Park changes the displays in order to keep customers interested and is constantly on the hunt for new pieces. None of the clothes have a price tag because Park doesn’t want any shopper to be intimidated by the price. When customers come up to the register Park or whoever is working can talk about the price and if someone pays a little less or a little more, that’s fine, Park said. 

“The most disappointing part is going into a store you don’t see nothing but then you feel forced to buy something,” Park said. 

Park also upcycles any item she finds with slight damage or wear on them by distressing, painting, or bleaching them as a part of her clothing line, Stylish Behavior. he also sells regular t-shirts and hoodies with her logo.

Thrifting and reselling is a growing industry, expected to reach $77 billion within the next five years. Of the 53.6 million resellers online, about 69 percent were first time sellers, according to a 2021 resale report by ThredUp, an online thrift store.

While others urge Park to hop onto the trend and start selling her clothes online, it’s just not for her.

“I’m cool with that but that’s not the same, Park said. “To be able to come into the store you get the energy, you get the love, you get the respect, you get to feel like you belong somewhere.”

Ninety-five percent of customers are returning customers. Over the years she’s seen customers start families, they’ve seen her son grow up and it feels like a community.

“Everything matters, presentation, the experience, how we treat customers, because it falls on me,” Park said. “You’re getting a part of me and if you’re not getting the best of me I don’t want you to have none of me.”

India Greenmont (left), Jessica Williams (middle) and Park (right) surround Williams’ phone as they look through old I Spy, You Buy pieces.

Jessica Williams has been shopping at I Spy, You Buy since it started out as a yard sale. Every Saturday Williams would come to support Park. One day Park wasn’t on the lawn and Williams saw that she had moved into a storefront. 

“The first day she opened the store I shopped,” Williams said. “She’s out here grinding doing her business and I love supporting small businesses, it is what it is.” 

Williams recommended the store to her friend India Greenmott who’s been a loyal customer for the past two years. Even if she’s not buying clothes for herself, she’s buying for family in California.

“People always ask me where I get my stuff from or my family members that live here, they’ll see me in my stuff and I always tell them to come here,” Greenmott said. 

Ania Pasternak, 22,who lives in Manayunk is a huge fan of thrifting and casually found the store when she was looking up thrift stores in the area. The first time she came in she brought her family with her and everyone, including herself, were amazed at the finds and of Dolly’s kindness.

“She was so nice, she talked to me, and I bought one of the waist beads and she was so nice she helped me put it on, everyone found something they liked so I thought it was worth it,” Pasternak said.

While the business is running smoothly now, it didn’t start out that way. There were days where Park didn’t sleep because she was working hard to start her business. If a customer couldn’t find what they wanted in store, she’d personally shop for them and have it in the store the next day.

But, the pandemic really showed her to prioritize self care, she noticed that she was starting to feel burnt out and what she once felt so passionate about doing, now felt more like a chore.

“I had that attitude of I want to please everybody but that’s not my job,” Park said. “I’m going to bring you what I have. I  was doing too much and that was taking away from me taking care of me, you can’t offer anyone anything until you make sure you’re good.”

Park sees her business expanding nationwide to cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Miami. Keyon Park is proud of his mom and he knows the business will continue evolving.

“She’s been doing this all my life, since I can remember so I kind of knew she’d achieve her goals because whenever she says she’s gonna do something, she always did it,” Keyon Park said. “When we first got the store I was shocked but I wasn’t surprised and I was just so happy for her because she came so far.”

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