Leisure Centre New York Vintage Store Review


Leisure Centre Is New York's Kindest Vintage Store

Frank Carson curates the vintage hotspot with impeccable taste, a sense of humor, and an open heart.

It’s a Wednesday in mid-March and the first nice day of the year. The corner of Hester and Ludlow is alive with people drinking iced coffees and murmuring about increased serotonin in their brains. It’s the same energy that’s concentrated at Leisure Centre, the tiny brick-and-mortar vintage store that opened three years ago and has since amassed a devoted following of skaters, fashion heads, and in-the-know girls.

The cult-like devotion to the shop, recently named by Esquire as one of the 30 best vintage menswear stores in America, isn’t only thanks to the impeccable curation by Frank Carson, the store’s magnetic, London-born proprietor, but his ability to foster a true sense of community, particularly in the often too-cool-for-school setting of the downtown New York fashion world. “I think in any industry, but certainly in vintage, there are people who sometimes take it way too seriously,” Carson says. “They find their sense of self by saying ‘I have these cool things.’ Whereas I think it’s fun to just have a laugh with it.”

Carson picks clothing and homewares with a sense of humor, curating a stunning collection of showstopper pieces. “I look for things that tickle your brain a little bit,” he says. Take, for example, a Sex and the City promotional hat from the ’90s or a pair of Veuve Clicquot-branded snow boots, which sit reverently on a shelf next to a deck of playing cards that look identical to a carton of Newports. In the basement, which houses stock, a sewing table for repairs, and a place to stage photoshoots, Carson shows me a pair of mohair pants the color of pomegranate seeds, along with a Chanel-branded Rubik’s cube.

But Leisure Centre is also chock-full of stylish basics: It’s a place where you go to simply get dressed or get your favorite pieces altered. On the day of my visit, a girl stands in front of a mirror trying on a white Dior lace slip two-piece set, which she buys on the spot. At least three young men ask specifically for Carson, who, sipping on Nespresso, is hand-drawing logos on the store’s white paper bags and doling out matchbooks to shoppers.

Frank Carson/NYLON

“Frank is a nice guy. He’s approachable. It feels welcoming,” says Jordan Sargent, one of the customers who asked specifically for Carson when coming into drop off clothes for repairs. “Sometimes you go into stores of this size and elsewhere in the neighborhood and it can feel very cliquey, and the person running it seems disinterested or aloof. The coolness of [Leisure Centre] doesn’t extend to an unwelcoming environment. It’s always nice here.”

The clientele is mostly neighborhood regulars, along with fashion aficionado tourists from England, France, Japan, and South America. But on the weekend, everyone descends upon the neighborhood. Since the opening of Leisure Centre, Carson estimates 10 more vintage stores have opened nearby, and he surmises that people now see Chinatown as a vintage destination. “Retail has to be something a little bit more personal and nuanced and maybe possibly slightly imperfect,” Carson says. “I’m really happy it’s worked. Because there was a time there when you were like ‘Retail can’t exist anymore.’ We’re here, and we’re still flying the flag.”

Shoppers may come for wardrobe one-offs and stay for the wardrobe staples — but what keeps them coming back is Carson, who offers something bigger: something like community, which feels increasingly hard to find. “When I was younger, those kinds of retail moments for me were so formative and so huge. They made me feel so welcome,” Carson says. “I feel like it’s a really nice thing to go in somewhere and be seen and connect over weird stuff that you’re into.”