There’s probably one in your own neighborhood, or if not, definitely in the next one over.
First, ignore the downside. Yes, they’re known for bad lighting; a funky (although not unpleasant) smell, and more than a teensy bit of disorganization.
Second, watch your step upon entering. That’s because, often near a back door, there might be a half dozen paper bags casually stuffed with who-knows-what, waiting to make their way to the Promised Land on the other side.
Yup, I’m talking thrift stores.
In this underemployed economy (count me in here, along with everyone else I know), I head to my favorite one once a month. It’s just a mile away and like so many, run by a local church.
I might leave with a very gently used sweatshirt or hoodie or two. Maybe a high end nightshirt or dress that, amazingly, fits perfectly. Perhaps a few pairs of flip flops, which we wear in this part of California in just about every kind of weather. Oh, and perfect picture frames and fluffy bedtime socks and even a hair blow dryer.
Lots of times, I’ll find exactly what I came in for, all for a song.
When our high energy dogs do sleep, it’s on garishly colored afghans atop their special beds. And books. Lots of books, particularly children’s books, although sometimes there are stacks of recent New Yorker magazines and classic titles to be had as well. Open a drawer or two in my kitchen, and you’ll see vintage Pyrex casserole dishes, muffin trays and oodles of wooden spoons, all of which I use, and all of which are thrift store finds.
Of course, it shouldn’t be surprising that clown pals have scored some great loot while on the road.
One has found heavy-duty storage trunks (a necessity for keeping wardrobe, makeup and props clean and organized), while another has purchased all manner of musical instruments, including steel drums, a concertina and lots of brass horns. And, perfect for those huge arena audiences, one more circus colleague exited with a black and white plaid dinner jacket sporting a velveteen lapel.
Of course, given that one person’s junk can be another’s treasure, there are those really awesome thrift store finds.
Indeed, the social networking and news website Reddit has its own online bulletin board for bragging about these special hauls. Recent posts found one member taking home a Wolfgang Puck panini press for $3.99; another buying a dreadful kitten clock so bad that it’s good, and a collegiate fashionista who scored with new boots and a trio of retro dresses, including one for under five dollars. (Check them all out here, at www.reddit.com/r/ThriftStoreHauls/)
If you’re a traveling guy or gal, there are also a number of sites and blogs featuring photos and descriptions of the best thrift stores in the entire country. It makes sense to have more than a handful of the greatest ones in Portland and Austin, but who would have thought Hawthrone, New Jersey? Here, fab threads from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s start at three bucks each—and fill dozens of jumbo cardboard boxes from floor to ceiling. (Go to http://www.luckyshops.com/slideshow/best-thrift-stores-america?bak=best-thrift-stores-america#slide-1 for more details.)
Yet, it wasn’t until I brought my daughter home that I even thought about entering a thrift store.
(Although, true story: years prior to this, I took Marlon Brando’s first wife, Anna Kashfi, out to lunch. Over fabulous fried chicken, she told me how much she liked thrift stores, and how very disappointed she was that her son Christian hated the idea of shopping at them.)
You see, I had a decent chunk of dough in the bank back then. But once I discovered the price tag for new baby clothes, and realized my child would be growing out of them in a hurry—the topper was two weeks—it seemed not just wasteful, but silly, to buy brand new duds. I was living in West Hollywood at that time, yet soon found myself driving to a small consignment store in Burbank, geared toward the littlest among us.
Without realizing it, I was ahead of the curve.
In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012 saw more than 17,000 of these storefronts dotting the United Sates, and that same year, they employed more than 145,000 people. In five years, it’s estimated that about 175,000 folks will receive a regular paycheck from one of these enterprises. (Let me do the math for you: that’s a 20 percent jump.) Given these numbers, it’s no surprise that some of the bigger thrift chains, such as Goodwill Industries, rake in more than $1 billion—yes, that’s the letter B—in annual sales.
Here’s more: a USA Today feature from three years ago reports that a full 20 percent of our population regularly cruise thrift store aisles. One of those persons quoted is a homemaker in upscale Sebastopol, California, who says that 95 percent of her household items have come from her three-times-a-week shopping excursions to these stores. Another shopper, a 30something freelance writer based in New York City, says that trolling thrift store aisles allows her to dress like other women in her office without breaking the bank. (Here’s the entire article: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/retail/story/2012-07-05/thrift-shopping-trend/56037332/1)
But let’s face it: unless you’re a many-times-per-month thrift store consumer, and/or cruise around our 50 states looking for the place that suits you best, you may not find quite as many cool items as those who post on Reddit.
But really, does that even matter? For me, just wandering through one of these establishments—whether it’s my tried and true standby, or one I’ve stumbled upon in another town—and then being open to what I might find, is often a lot more entertaining than limiting my options before even walking in the door.
Especially when you understand this simple fact: there’s always hidden booty to discover. If you don’t find whatever that may be to you at one store, go to another, and if not on that visit, try another.
Because once you’re hooked, you’ll know, for sure, that thrift stores really are today’s Everywhere, Every Day, Treasure Hunt Store.
What treasures have you brought home from a thrift store? I look forward to hearing about your finds!