Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Thrift Shops: They've changed.

My parents liked treasure-hunting at flea markets when I was young. My dad was always on the lookout for "royalty stuff" (cups and tins and things with pictures of the Queen's family on them), and we went along to poke through the tables of books and old toys. But thrift shops were pretty much unknown to us. The only one in town was run by the hospital auxiliary (volunteer ladies), and it was on a side street with other little offbeat stores. It was kind of dark and full of polyester shirts that all had the same weird smell. I used to go in there sometimes when I was in high school, looking for vintage clothes (hidden under the polyester). 

Later I moved to the larger city where we still live. From the late '80's through the mid '90's, I regularly checked out several thrift shops, most of them right on the main street. There was a Salvation Army store where nothing was priced at all. When you brought your stuff up to the counter, the lady sized you up and decided what she felt like charging you, and that was it. If you looked down-and-out enough, she might give it to you for free. There were two different Goodwill stores, both with their own personalities. The one we liked best was right near the downtown bus station. The Apprentice liked to pick out junk jewelery and hairdo stuff there when she was little, and they also had a great piled-up bin of toys that was fun to dig through. And good book bargains. There was the $2 copy of Timetables of History I found, and the bag of very old Cuisenaire rods for a quarter (nobody knew what they were), and the rubber boots I found for The Apprentice when she needed them the most, and the troll-fabric shirt, "size preschooler". There were the little handfuls of Duplo that I used to find, loose, in the bottom of the big toy bin, that helped to build up our collection. 

But a few years ago, all the thrift stores run by organizations (like the Goodwill) moved out of the downtown, out into less-accessible places like strip malls. There are only a couple of independent stores left in the core, where the people who need them the most can readily get to them. And when you do drive out to the new stores, you have to be prepared for their change of face. The new shops are cleaner. Things are bagged and labeled, arranged tastefully on shelves. (And always priced.) In reaction to their becoming dumping grounds for dinosaur computers and putrid couches, most of the shops are now very picky about what they will and won't accept. Mainstream shoppers...those who never liked "used stuff"...won't be afraid they'll catch anything nasty there. There are fewer surprises now (good or bad). Fewer treasures. Less more of those ugly necklaces for a quarter that my preschooler loved. No atrocious crafts made thirty years ago for somebody's Christmas bazaar. No books with ripped or unreadable covers (the kind that I could take a couple of hours looking through if I didn't have somebody small tugging at me). The CDs are more likely to play (or at least more likely to have a CD inside the case), but they cost $2.50 now instead of 50 cents. 

I don't blame the thrift shops. It can't be easy just trying to pay the rent, keep things going and not turn into a free dumpster. But I miss the old shops, the old ladies, the old stuff that was always missing a piece here and there...but if you were lucky you'd find another one that was missing a different piece, and tell everybody who'd listen what luck you'd had.


Kathryn said...

I love thrift shops too. I agree that they have changed--the goodwills in our area are kind of expensive. I'm sticking mainly with garage sales now, although a lady I met in Walmart was telling me about one near where I live that sells clothing by the bag. I haven't been there yet!!
Good blog, BTW. I love the "home-squirrelers"! I linked from Two Talent Living!!

Marsha said...

Sigh. I hear what you are saying. When I was in Vancouver I was in one of the "cleaned up, greatly lit ones". But in Halifax they are still the old style, though unfortunately with the new pricing system. The way you are treated depends very much on the individual staff's whims. At the one very near our house I bought 10 books for $1.00. But in a different area of town I have to pay $1 or $2 for books. I know one of the problems is rents - at least in Nova Scotia there is no "rent control" so Thrift Shops can basically not pay the rent in downtown areas. I heard a rumour a few years ago that Salvation Army isn't owned by Salvation Army anymore - they just get a certain per centage from sales. I don't know if it is true. In Nova Scotia, thrift shop shopping is very main stream for many people. There is great joy in sharing what you got, bragging about your $2 Jones New York Jeans or whatever. I laughed about your Cuisonairre find - I am always looking for them but haven't found them yet! We took a month long sabbatical from the computer (the kids did). I went to Frenchies & bought 6 games - all for $2 each. Clue, Mastermind, a wooden puzzle, Parcheesi, Taboo, Battle Ship. Who cares that the box is a little bit broken?

Anonymous said...

I love going through the bargain bins. Sally Ann's has gotten way too expensive for being used stuff, and I can never find anything at Value Village...I love Frenchy's-- there is always at least one bin of toys and books-- but even that has raised its prices. Jeans that were 90 cents are now $2.50 or more... bag days are always a treat! We have a basement sale at a local church M-W-F, and they are a little more lenient in their pricing of clothes. The kids love going into their "Yard Sale Room" and getting cool stuff for el cheapo. Anything from toys to books to housewares. Is there ANYTHNING better than finding a really cheap treasure???