Too many thrift stores these days sell merchandise that I would be embarrassed to give away to charity or put out at the curb – dirty stained clothing, broken appliances, chipped/cracked pottery – and often at ridiculously inflated prices. But every so often I am very pleasantly surprised by a hidden gem of a resale/thrift store. Such is the case with Community Threads, a delightfully refreshing store in Buffalo Grove. I say delightful because you won’t find grimy, threadbare, worn-out goods here. Quite the opposite – the selection here is very tasteful and the displays show an enthusiastic commitment to making recycled merchandise enticing to the consumer. A few weeks ago I picked up two pairs of gently used Italian leather loafers for myself at a very reasonable price – I guess I can forgive that there was a wad of gum on the bottom of one sole. Most items here are reasonably priced, with the exception of the furniture and better jewelry sections which have a few pieces priced unrealistically high. The antique furniture and cased collectibles tend to be the priciest, but are very classy and for the most part in impeccable condition. An antique dresser priced at $875 is really out-of-place at a resale store and would even be considered overpriced at an antique store or show. The slightly bruised antique furniture priced in the $150-$275 range is still quite high for a resale store, but may be within the budget of the upscale shopper. Some of these pieces need a little bit of loving care such as minor retouching and a coat of fresh Watco Oil.
Salvation Army Family Thrift Stores are dirty, cluttered, and somewhat disgusting places – especially if you like your thrift clean, classy, and tidy. At least the stores in metro Chicago – I cannot speak to other regions of the country. If you identify with the characters played by Dale Dickey in My Name is Earl and Breaking Bad, or any of Jesse Pinkman’s skanky friends for that matter, then you will dig these stores. While the clothes are sorted with some semblance of order, the knick knacks and housewares tend to be scattered around and in pretty decrepit shape. The shoes are abysmal for the most part – so beat up and gross that I would be embarrassed to donate them to charity, much less resell them!There have been a few notable exceptions – I found new Christian Louboutin sandals a few months ago as well as Prada boots and MBT shoes, but I consider this an anomaly.
Since losing my job, I have patronized resale and thrift shops with more frequency – not for clothes for myself but for new housewares or vintage items to resell on eBay. I have also been on a mission to purge our house of unworn clothing and bric-a-brac purchased on a whim or left over from my days as an antique mall merchant. If we ever want to move, this activity is essential. Goodwill has been my thrift store charity of choice over the last six months. Goodwill has a good mission and their prices are generally reasonable, although some of their Chicagoland stores suffer from the same illogical pricing as other thrift stores we have blogged about. The store in Carpentersville near Woodman’s has deteriorated – both in cleanliness and prices, while the two stores in Arlington Heights and the West Loop are for the most part reasonable.
Top 20 Grouches Losing my director-level position and being unemployed for the first time in 20 years in a dismal job market My sister Janet losing her glamorous Hollywood job 6 weeks after me Jeff’s scary February car accident on an icy treacherous stretch of road in Long Grove My July 4 ER visit caused by art-related X-ACTO knife blade slip and resulting ugly scar Far-right politicians pulling out all the stops to sabotage Obama – hurting all Americans Mom suffering needlessly years after a botched appendectomy Incessant and overblown media coverage of Tim Tebow Kim Kardashian and her clan Mom falling while on vacation in NYC and suffering a nasty head wound Samantha incurring a permanent facial scar at the hands of an incompetent oral surgeon Wall Street Volatility – making investing wisely a total crap shoot Grossly overpaid CEOs, athletes, and celebrities North Koreans’ brainwashed adoration of a monster dictator upon his sudden death Nancy Grace June 23 ComEd power outage affecting our humble abode for 17 hours People who text and talk on cell phones while driving – especially on the highway Charlie Sheen Rained-out August garage sale after months of preparation – never again Financial worries caused by loss of income and health insurance The annoying Ozzie Guillén – adiós in 2011 Top 20 Purrs Pepper’s snuggles and unconditional love Jeff walking away uninjured from his terrifying car accident A lot of free time to play tennis and exercise Photographing and painting my site specific works Legions of oppressed people in the Middle East overthrowing horrific regimes The deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi Leisure time to hang out downtown with Samantha Detoxing after losing my incredibly stressful, office politics-ridden job Discovering the superb Breaking Bad and devouring 3 seasons of episodes within a month Humility learned from being unemployed Amanda Knox being freed in October after 4 years of imprisonment in Perugia The magic of movies including Hugo, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Drive Watching Dark…
It may be a bit of a stretch to declare that Community Thrift Store in East Dundee, Ill. is the worst thrift store in America – I haven’t shopped at all of them! But I have patronized no less than 200 thrift/resale stores in states including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. This place epitomizes the worst in thrift – grossly inflated prices, dingy old clothes, chipped dishes and figurines, filthy displays, screaming kids – all to benefit the avarice of a grungy for-profit business. I suspect that the location in Gurnee is owned by the same person given the reviews on Yelp. This place really brought out my inner grouch. Every time I spotted a rip-off, which pretty much applied to everything in the store, I grumbled so loudly to Jeff that I am surprised one of the clerks didn’t kick us out. This thrift store does NOT benefit any charitable cause, making it even more deplorable. Most of the patrons looked like people who have to shop at thrift stores. I hate when people less fortunate are ripped off.
I count my blessings that I have a lifelong antique collection to fall back on for a bit of extra income. A PR and communications professional, I found myself unemployed in mid-June for the first time in 20 years. I could write a 5,000-word blog just about my last employer, but I know that diplomacy will serve me better than spite as I strive to land a new position. So back to the matter at hand – a few of the high points in my hunt for treasure over the years. For this blog, I am posting an eclectic sampling of some of my most memorable finds – not necessarily because of the resulting sale, but for the memories associated with the acquisition. My mom bought this complete set of Hartland Plastics musical cupids in 1976 at a fantastic store that sold new old store stock from dime stores. Our close friend Bebe turned us onto this treasure trove of a shop called Mary’s. It was located near Yoshi’s Cafe, in the 3200 block of North Halsted – long before it became a hip neighborhood. In any case, Mary decided to pack up shop and move to Michigan while I was away at RISD, so my mom visited the shop and bought a few things at close-out prices. Mind you, Mary’s prices were fantastic to start, so this was quite a deal. I held onto this wonderful set until a few years ago, at which time I sold it to a lucky collector.
We have touched on the subject of charity thrift stores here before, but barely scratched the surface. One of the main reasons for starting this blog was indeed our frustrations with these types of stores. So let’s finally begin an initial review of these “charity shops.” First we’ll differentiate “charity” thrift stores from commercial ones. There seem to be less of the non-charitable types out there these days, but they can be found. Many of the ones we used to frequent have gone out of business. Most of them I would classify as an alternate type of antique store or more accurately – resale store – but dealing in more recent “vintage” clothing and household items. If you like fashions from the 70s, they can be a treasure trove. Of course one primary difference is that they generally sell items that the owners purchased themselves or are there on consignment. Charity thrift stores, on the other hand, sell things that were donated freely, often as a tax deduction. So understand this point: they are selling items that cost them nothing, and often a small percentage of those goods become tax deductions for those who donate to them. Thus in a way, the government is helping to fund their inventory.
Well, I am striking another Chicago-area thrift store off my list. I cannot forgive the idiotic behavior and ill manners of the ladies working at the Miseracordia Twice Blest Thrift Shop in Palatine. If this was the first time I encountered rudeness at this shop, I would give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, they are volunteers supposedly working for a worthy cause – to benefit people with developmental disabilities and their families. But every time I have been here, the ladies working there have been crabby and bordering on nasty. This visit, however, pushed me over the edge.
It has become increasingly difficult for me to donate to thrift stores because they have gotten increasingly greedy with highly inflated prices. The purpose of most thrift stores is to benefit a cause and programs for disadvantaged, disabled, or other people in need. Most of these causes are very worthy. However, many of these thrift stores seem to have lost sight of this, as well as the fact that many of their patrons are on limited budgets. Sure, some shoppers are antique pickers like myself, but the vast majority shop thrift because they cannot afford retail. Alas, it is extremely discouraging when one sees that thrift store prices have exceeded retail in many cases, albeit with one important difference. These thrift stores are selling USED items for more than one can buy them NEW retail – what? Case in point, one of my favorite thrift stores – WINGS has a great cause, and I feel for them since their original Palatine location burned to the ground. The mission of WINGS is to provide a continuum of integrated services in an effort to end domestic violence and homelessness one family at a time. They used to have really good prices and on occassion, still have some bargains, but their pricing is random. Jeff and I recently donated a huge array of our prized possessions to WINGS after our garage sale was rained out totally on its second day. Many of these items were antiques and collectibles left over from the days when I had a booth at an antique mall. So not junk, by any means. Much to my consternation, when we were in there on Saturday, I saw that many of my items had been underpriced! Yet right next to some of my antiques were ordinary items that retail new for a small fraction…
There’s a lot we have to say about thrift and resale shops. A few years ago they used to provide real bargains. Today most of them are run like corporations. We often are bewildered by the high prices that are nearly at retail levels. It seems the people who set prices are either ignorant of an item’s real value or outright greedy. A new Goodwill store recently opened near us and we have donated many bags of stuff as we attempt to divest ourselves of years of accumulated things we don’t need. After we dropped off some stuff yesterday we went in to browse. I could cite example after example of confusing prices (and as a matter of fact will do so in the future). There were two things that stood out at this visit. Betsy found a nice piece of Lusterware priced at $1.99 which she estimated would sell for around $10 at an antique store. At the same time just down the aisle I found a pair of plain wooden chopsticks similar to what you would get at a restaurant for .99 cents. The Lusterware certainly would be a good bargain, but who in their right mind would buy the pair of chopsticks?