Store to Benefit AIDS Patients : Health: The Atwater Village shop is dedicated to helping those in a hospice and to raising funds for education about the disease.


Grace Weisenstein, her car loaded with boxes of knickknacks, pulled up to an Atwater Village storefront that is opening soon as a thrift shop to benefit people with AIDS and extracted a brown wig, the first of many items she planned to donate to the project.

“It’s an old one of my mother’s,” Weisenstein, 58, said quietly, her back to her mother, who sat patiently in the car. “She only wore it a couple of times. I guess someone could use it for Halloween?”

Marc Neighbor, who will manage the thrift store at 3160 Glendale Blvd. when it opens Oct. 1, said the wig and other items could translate into a few more dollars to help people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.


The store, called Out of the Closet, is expected to benefit AIDS patients at the Chris Brownlie Hospice in Elysian Park and help pay for AIDS education.

It is also hoped that it will help support a new clinic for asymptomatic AIDS victims, which will operate in the same building that will house the thrift shop. The clinic will be able to serve 1,500 patients a year and also will open in October.

“Based upon the quality of the stuff we’re getting, and the quantity too, this is going to go over really well,” said Neighbor, a 28-year-old former antique dealer. “There’s a real need for this in the community, and when people hear where this is going, they’re wide open. There are no limits to their generosity.”

Out of the Closet and the clinic, which is to be known as the Richard Polanco HIV Clinic after the state assemblyman who represents the Atwater Village area, are projects of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Hollywood-based nonprofit group. The group is best known for helping establish the Brownlie Hospice, a 25-bed facility at Barlow Hospital.

Much of the Polanco clinic’s $675,000 budget is expected to come from an indigent-care contract now being negotiated with Los Angeles County, and from Medicare, Medi-Cal and private insurance, said Michael Weinstein, foundation president. Profits from the thrift shop also will go to the clinic.

Only one other thrift store benefiting people with AIDS is believed to be operating in the Los Angeles area. The Project Ahead shop in Long Beach raises about $3,000 to $4,000 a month for AIDS-related services, said Danny Johnson, the store’s manager.


AIDS Healthcare Foundation officials said the name Out of the Closet is meant to encourage people to clean out storage areas and donate unneeded belongings. But it also refers to gay sexuality, Neighbor said. And most important, it confronts adverse perceptions about people with AIDS.

“There is so much stigma, so much shame associated with the disease,” Neighbor said. “Having a storefront with this name takes away from that shame. And really, the shame of anything you’re afraid of.”

Some employees of Out of the Closet have AIDS, he said. Literature about the disease will be available in the shop. The clinic, which will be separate from the store, will provide monitoring, testing and prescriptions for people who have tested positive for AIDS but show no symptoms.

Foundation officials said they believe the clinic’s link to the store has encouraged donations and interest.

“With most people, we’re past the prejudice,” Weinstein said. “There’s a desire to show compassion. But generally, there are thrift store fanatics, and if a store has good stuff, they’re going to be there.”

Neighbor, a recent philosophy graduate of Cal Poly Pomona, said Out of the Closet will have more flair than a Salvation Army store he once managed. He and other organizers envision a store with an upbeat shopping atmosphere, creative art on the walls, dressed-up windows and background music.


That may help spark business in what traditionally has been a sleepy Glendale Boulevard business community, Atwater Village merchants said.

“We get thousands of cars driving through, but it’s never been a destination place,” said Chris Hershey, president of the Boulevard Business Assn. “That’s what we’re trying to change. In my experience, nicely done thrift stores attract the kind of audience we want. They bring about more ice cream shops and restaurants, so we don’t lose the village feel.”

Foundation officials said they chose Atwater Village for the reasonable rent and neighborhood climate. But they also wanted to provide clinic services for people with AIDS in the area.

Since 1981, at least 678 cases of AIDS have been reported in northeast Los Angeles and the Glendale area, which includes Mt. Washington, Highland Park and Eagle Rock. The number represents 7% of the cases throughout Los Angeles County, according to Department of Health Services statistics.

The foundation already is considering opening a second store because Out of the Closet has received such a large volume of donations, Weinstein said.

On a recent Saturday, Neighbor stood in a room at the thrift store and surveyed some of the goods that had been donated: dozens of boxes and plastic bags filled with clothing, kitchen goods, records, books and blankets. Lamps, appliances and electronic equipment. Christmas decorations. Even a few old bowling trophies.


“At another storage space, we’ve got three pianos, an organ, about half a dozen refrigerators, washers and dryers and a big-screen TV that’s almost brand-new,” he said. “The donors are mostly people who have lost friends, lovers and family members. But there are those who do it just because it’s a good cause.”

For Weisenstein, a Los Angeles city employee, donating her mother’s old wig and other items was mainly a way to clean out her home after a garage sale. But she was not unmoved by social concern.

“AIDS is not just a gay problem, and it’s not just addicts who have children, either,” Weisenstein said. “AIDS is everybody’s problem.”