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MTA offering ‘perfectly imperfect’ transit memorabilia at holiday pop-up shop

Dec. 14, 2023 By Kirstyn Brendlen & Gabriele Holtermann

Brooklyn’s most unexpectedly busy holiday shopping destination is the MTA’s annual memorabilia and collectible pop-up shop at a train yard in Gravesend — and, due to popular demand, the agency added additional shopping appointments and walk-up availability for the last day of the sale on Dec. 15. 

For three days only through Dec. 15, the MTA is selling all manner of “perfectly imperfect” transit-related goodies at the pop-up. Old subway station signs, handholds from subway cars, maps, train parts, and even massive retired garbage cans and benches are all up for grabs. 

mta pop up sale

The sale included tables and signage from Grand Central Station. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

The sales are run by the agency’s asset recovery division — which is essentially responsible for getting rid of any old or obsolete equipment “in the most cost-effective, environmentally-friendly manner,” said division head Paul Dvoskin.

The MTA launched the annual holiday pop-up shops in 2021 to massive success. Prospective customers have to sign up for a shopping appointment ahead of time — and, with the pop-up only open for five hours on each day of its three-day run, this year’s appointments booked up just two days after the sale was announced. 

According to MTA spokesperson Joana Flores, 800 people were booked in to visit the shop as of Dec. 12, before more appointments were made available. Dvoskin said roughly 500 people had visited the sale by midday Thursday. 

Particularly popular items at the sale include any signs from the World Trade Center stop, Flores said, and Dvoskin added that station signs from all over the city are also hot commodities. Shoppers are also particularly interested in items from the retired R32 “Brightliner” trains, which ended their 60-year run on the rails last year. 

mta brightliner

Items from the retired “Brightliner” trains are particularly popular this year. Photo courtesy of Marc A. Hermann/MTA

“The Brightliner stuff is flying right now, everyone loves this stuff,” he said. “We’ve sold multiple logos, that’s probably the hottest item today – the big round logos off the R32s. I actually had to go get some more this morning because they were selling out so fast.” 

The shop has seen a full range of customers, Dvoskin said — from train enthusiasts to current and former New Yorkers who want “little mementos, little symbols of the city.” 

None of the items are cleaned before they’re sold, he added, “and I think that’s part of their appeal.”

One shopper, Brooklynite Brandon Kelly bought the Jay Street-Borough Hall sign because it used to be his wife’s subway stop. 

“That was her train stop. So she was really looking for this one. So we were lucky enough to find it,” he said. “So it takes us back. It takes us both to a happy place.”

man with MTA Jay Street sign

Brandon Kelly bought a Jay St- Borough Hall sign for his wife at the sale. Photo by Gaby Holtermann

Josh Brewer from Astoria, Queens, attended the event with his pal Daniel Monteagudo. 

It was Brewer’s second year attending the sale, and he was searching for a sign from Astoria to add to his collection of N-train signs. 

“This is my second year. I saw it on Twitter, and I was like, ‘Oh, I have to come,” he said. 

Monteagudo learned about the event through Brewer. 

“It’s just stuff no one else is gonna have. So it’s a real draw,” Brewer added.

“We love public transport,” Monteagudo said. “And it’d be pretty sweet to get some iconic signs in your own home.”

The MTA sells various ephemera online year-round, but at a higher price, since the items have to be shipped out — the pop-up shop is strictly pick-up only, so anything the customers buy, they have to get home on their own. Dvoskin said the online shop was fairly successful — but he and the team were surprised at just how popular the in-person pop-ups have been. 

old equipment at MTA sale

The sale included old lock boxes and other train equipment. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“We had no idea it was going to get to this level, I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “We’re very happy that we decided to do this and we were very happy that we got to meet our customers face-to-face.” 

Brendan Kehoe from Forest Hills, Queens, had his eye on the Forest Hills & Jamaica Center subway station sign but had to check in with his wife, or his “boss” as Kehoe put it, before buying a piece of MTA history. 

Kehoe said they were planning on hanging the sign in the foyer of their apartment. 

“My wife was born and raised in Queens, so this kind of stuff is special for her,” Kehoe said. 

man at MTA sale

Brendan Kehoe from Forest Hills, Queens, bought a Forest Hills subway sign at the sale. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

As the sale wound down, with plenty of people still hoping to grab a piece of transportation history, the MTA opened up a few extra appointments  — most of which were quickly booked up — and decided to accept walk-up shoppers on Dec. 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Flores said. Dvoskin also encouraged would-be shoppers who might miss out on the sale to reach out to the asset recovery division online so they can stay updated as stock replenishes after the holidays.

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