Thrift stores are wonderful, marvelous, awful places. For the most part, they stay the same no matter what store you’re in, in what part of the country, whoever the owner is. They all bear the same smell. If we combined every basement into one giant super-awesome basement, that would be the smell you get in a thrift store. Incidentally, that exact scenario would also produce an ideal thrift store. They all have the same disheveled and disorganized batch of knick-knacks, the same semi-organized selection of clothes too old to be fashionable but too new to be retro-cool, the same unacceptably dingy furniture, the same graveyard of a library. Somehow, though, they all manage to have different prices, ranging from the ridiculous bargain to the questionable cheat. I marvel at how I can buy a t-shirt at one store for 99 cents and go across the street and find someone charging $3.99. Charging $3.99 for a used t-shirt makes only slightly more sense than charging, well, anything for used underpants.
I spent yesterday afternoon searching for a pair of broken-in cleats for softball. I found them, but only after visiting three or four thrift stores. They were tacky, off-white, a size too big, perfect. I also picked up a golf bag, a few decades older than me but younger than my current model. A clear upgrade at two dollars. It’s unfortunate that such charitable places should remind me of death.
First of all, their business model makes them essentially the scavengers of the retail world. People give them stuff for free, they sell it at pure profit after the cost of business. They’re vultures. But they’re charitable vultures. As best I can tell, thrift stores were birthed mostly by charities (In the
Secondly, it becomes painfully clear after visiting several thrift stores that things go there to die. Everything that is there is there to die. When people find things they don’t need anymore, can’t fit anymore, or can’t turn on anymore, the obvious solution is to give it to charity. And, generally, it’s stuff that they tell themselves could be someone else’s treasure. Surely, they tell themselves, someone else will find use for these faded, bleach-stained personalized, towels.
Thrift stores are the burial grounds for sports gone by. Nowhere else can you find as great a collection of badminton rackets, rollerblades, or holey water socks used for avoiding sea urchins or, in
Every fad diet book there ever was or will be ends up in a thrift store. Usually, there’s also a pretty good selection of inspirational literature that outlived its inspiration. And lots of books by Danielle Steele. But the book section, for whatever faults I might give it, is usually the best part of the entire store, unless you’re not into books. (Then, I suggest you check out all of the dated vinyl records and amuse yourself with their silly covers.) I cannot leave the book section without buying something. Someday, I really will read that Lee Iacocca biography.
T-shirts come here to die. The shirts they throw at minor league sporting events, the ones people toss small children out of the way to get at, always end up on the racks at Goodwill. For $3.99, of course. Yesterday, I saw a college student bolt into a store, rifle determinedly through each rack of t-shirts (mixed in with the scandalously small beach-guy tank-tops and old football practice jerseys) and immediately bolt out toward the next store. These are the people who get all the good ones. They leave the tasteless ones, like one I saw: It said, “What happened to my booger?” and there was a giant green blob next to the question mark. This shirt came in an adult size, that’s what concerns me. Nevermind the impossibility and utter ridiculousness of putting such a shirt together to find a booger in a timely fashion, or the size of the “booger.” I’m going to guess this was given as a gift to some embarrassed person who brought it immediately to the thrift store without ever saying thank you (or good bye) to the well-meaning wacky aunt who gave it. You can put whatever goofball t-shirt you want on a baby, and it will be silly or cute, but this shirt has no business being worn by anyone over the age of, say, three.
Say you find a t-shirt you might want. Say you’re lucky enough to find it in your size. And, the neck isn’t stretched out after years spent waiting on a hanger or suspending hyperactive children from some poor father’s collar. There’s still the likelihood that somewhere on it, most likely in a place you won’t notice until you’ve purchased it, there’s a stain of chocolate ice cream or something worse.
Of course, the other day when I went, I did find a t-shirt that seemed like a good idea at the time. I made my way to the line, waited forever, and promptly made my purchase. And this is where the thrift store shines best: The clerk asked me if I had a college ID. I am not a college student, but I do have an ID. I flashed my credentials, and was offered a college discount. A college discount? By Jove! I can save an additional 15% on my purchases. Thrift stores are wonderful, terrific, marvelous, awful places.
Also, there are lots of crutches. Lots and lots of crutches.