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The thrill of the hunt: Shopping secondhand stores

It's not just a way to find cheap stuff, it's also fun.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 4:04AM

The best thrift shops are as good as garage sales, offering a variety of offbeat items at low prices. Things like "Talk to the Hand: Getting Everything You Want With Ventriloquism," a how-to manual with a set of four finger puppets. Originally it cost $9.95; I paid 50 cents yesterday at Cloud 9 Consignment & Thrift


In all, I spent $9.97 for six items that will make good birthday or holiday gifts, two books for my church's library, and four tins that I'll fill with homemade cookies and give as Christmas presents.


But what made the trip memorable was discovering that Cloud 9, like some yard sales, has a free box. In it I found an olive green sweater that's from Bill Blass, if labels mean anything to you. I was more interested by its excellent condition and the fact that it is machine washable. And free.


In a soft economy, more shoppers are heading to thrift, resale and consignment stores, according to the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops. The organization's Web site proclaimed thrift stores to be "one of the few recession-proof segments of retailing," a niche market that not only survives but thrives during periods of economic uncertainty. A recent member survey showed a big increase in both sales and consignments in 2008. 

That doesn't surprise me. As the prices of gasoline and basic foods rise, some people have less money to spend on clothing and housewares. And some folks in financial straits are having to sell stuff to pay the bills. 


Ceramic clowns: Whimsical or scary?
Although I'm generally a reluctant shopper, hitting the thrift store isn't the same thing. It's a combination of treasure hunt and sociology lesson. I have no idea what I'll find. I have no idea what some of it is even used for. Is this beaded twisty thing a bracelet? A pet collar? A napkin ring? A ponytail holder? A decorative tourniquet?


I'm amused and/or horrified by some of what I see: dyed-green cornhusk angels with raffia hair, ceramic clown figurines, Christmas-themed stove burner covers and just about anything with a "country" motif. (It's my belief that left to their own devices, geese would never wear headscarves.)


But I might also find a pair of like-new jeans for 99 cents, a file cabinet for $2.50, a gorgeous coffee table book for three bucks. That's why I keep looking. 


The NARTS site calls this phenomenon "the thrill of the hunt," i.e., the joy of finding useful and good-quality items at low prices. Garage salers feel the same endorphin rush. The only thing better, really, is that free box or Freecyle


The rush isn't guaranteed, as anyone who's ever visited a bad yard sale or poorly run thrift shop already knows. Who knew there were so many coffee mugs and tired doilies in the world? 


Browsing = entertainment
More often than not, I'll find things that I'd at least consider buying. I say "consider" because to me, browsing thrift shops and yard sales is as much for entertainment as it is for consumption. I don't go out with a definite goal in mind, but rather to see what's available and if it will match a current or eventual need -- my own or someone else's.


Personally, I have no aptitude for crafts, but my niece has a real talent for them. That's why when she visits next month she'll get "Quick & Clever Christmas Cards: 100 Fast & Festive Cards & Tags." Retail, $19.99; I paid 75 cents at Cloud 9.


Thrift stores, along with yard sales and clearance racks, allow me to stretch my giving dollars. Before you write to tell me what a cheap so-and-so I am to give "used" stuff, let me say that I only give new-looking items. That Christmas-card book doesn't have a mark on it. Some of the things I find in thrift stores are new, such as shrink-wrapped puzzles or clothing with the department store price tags still attached.


The best of what I find is turned into gifts for friends, relatives and the family that my sister and I "adopt" for the holidays. Sometimes I keep a few things for myself. Not that often, though, because I don't need much. 


That's one of the best parts about shopping at thrift stores: I realize how much I already have, yet I'm reminded that should I need something in the future I can probably get it fairly cheaply. Especially if I learn to love ceramics. 


Published July 25, 2008

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