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.
Collectively, the clientele are particularly rude – using shopping carts as weapons of thrift destruction – blocking the way and ramming them into you while you are browsing. And the workers stocking could care less about customers – they are oblivious that customers exist and go about their work like they are in their own little worlds. Even worse, they always have just one cash register open until the line goes from here to Timbuktu – only then will they reluctantly open another line.
So what saves The Salvation Army from being relegated to the bottom of the heap like the Community Thrift Store that I scathingly blogged about? Two major things – the proceeds benefit a legitimate charity and the prices are usually reasonable, even if the merchandise is worn out. Below is a brief review of each location in the Chicago area that I have frequented with some regularity.
Arlington Heights: Really dirty and outdated shoes with the rare exception like those sweet Leboutins. The lighting is really poor in the shoe areas so you need to inspect these goods in better light up near the front windows. There are nice display cases of jewelry and collectibles, although the selection varies greatly by visit. This week the collectibles were depleted. Messy housewares section with an amazing array of chipped pottery. Expect to wait in line for at least 10 minutes if not longer.
Chicago/N. Central Ave.: Really dirty, disorganized, and outdated shoes – decent clothes but not very organized. Paltry and messy housewares section – no collectibles. The last time I was here, a customer knocked an entire huge box of flatware on the ground and loudly started throwing each piece back into the box, one at a time. Needless to say, the flatware was scattered all over the already tight aisles in this section so I steered clear.
Chicago/N. Clybourn: This store is quite large with two floors. Although they have a parking lot, be careful or you will ruin the bottom of your car – the exit is severely sloped/slanted. This store has deteriorated greatly in the last few years. The shoes are dirty, disorganized, outdated, and priced very erratically – higher than most of the other locations. The housewares section is large but incredibly messy with things stacked on top of each other – no wonder that I heard something break at least six times on one visit. The aisles are so cramped and the clothes unreasonably squeezed together on the racks, making browsing quite difficult. The cashiers and stockers are extremely rude.
Chicago/Logan Square – Fullerton Ave.: This store is the darkest and dingiest of all locations. A few years ago I scored new vintage Puma California men’s shoes and a really cool antique religious piece made out of animal horns. Back then somebody took the time and care to display the housewares and collectibles by color which was quite impressive. More recently this store has been a disgusting mess with slim pickings in every area. It’s just not worth feeding the parking meter box with coins to browse for nothing.
Chicago/River West – Union Ave.: This store is huge with three floors. The only level that has any bargains is the basement. Clothing and antiques are upstairs on the top floor. The shoes are dirty, disorganized, outdated, and priced very erratically – more expensive than Clybourn. There is an antiques section that has items priced higher than any antique mall or shop. And the furniture is ridiculously priced – newer, cheaply made press wood laminate pieces are priced higher than retail. You can purchase beautiful, antique solid wood pieces with genuine character at many antique malls for less! There are a few bargains to be found in the spacious basement – I purchased a gorgeous 1940s lustreware bowl a few months ago and was surprised that it hadn’t made its way to the antique section.
Morton Grove: This used to be Frank’s Nursery and Crafts and one of my good high school friends worked there – a bit of nostalgia. They have more shoes here than at any other location, but most are beat up, outdated, or downright ugly – it is hit or miss. There is a very nice display case of neatly organized jewelry and a few antiques and collectibles. The people who work here are weird. Yesterday I encountered loud singing and bellowing noises coming from the back where the sorting is done. One of the workers the size of Paul Bunyan was singing along to the blaring radio and an argument ensued about the lyrics until somebody else told him to shut up. An unsavory guy trying on a coat backed into me – but at least he apologized through his toothless grin. The store itself is rather dingy with uneven and disgusting old linoleum, but at least some effort is put into displaying the merchandise.
Skokie: This building housed Siegal’s Shoes way back when I was a kid and more recently Tuesday Morning. I’m not sure why the latter wasn’t successful in Downtown Skokie since this franchise is so popular. I don’t like this location due to the poor selection. The few housewares are scattered on a variety of shelves, the jewelry and collectibles are meager, and the toys and knick knacks in the back are a mess. The shoe selection is pathetic at this location – I have never seen anything but outdated crap here, so even though I like other shops in close proximity, it’s not worth my time.
It seems like every time I visit a Salvation Army Family Thrift Store I start to itch and sneeze. This could be my allergies to dust and dirt or simply psychological – whatever the cause, I always feel like I need to take a bath afterwards.