Rosa, Thrift Maven: A Thrift Store Primer

I don't know if it's nature or nurture; but somehow I ended up a complete and utter scrounge. I have little shame. I trawl through favorite thrift store haunts, am the first to queue up for a church jumble sale or car boot sale when on holiday, and never pass up a Sally's or GW in a foreign town. I got my fabulous 50's prom dress from a church rummage sale (All Saint's Episcopal, Carmel).G's chrome-edged yellow formica table (50's era-it's gorgeous), came from the preschool where I teach. In Ghana, when I was there with YWAM, I traded a boy for his incredibly cool Jolly Green Giant T-shirt. (He was very excited about my baseball hat from Lake Lure, NC.) B & I slow down for garage sales and give each other a certain look whilst driving past free furniture on the street. We used to frequent the local discount grocery store affectionately known as 'Gross Me Outlet' in order to stock up on cheap supplies and to have a laugh at the Tang printed in Cyrillic and the cans of knock-off SPAM called TREET.
And here's the one I'm not altogether proud of: In 1992 I was living with my dad on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i. In September, Hurricane Iniki swept through and ravaged the island. (It was ten tons of spine-tingling fun, really. I recommend hurricanes. Especially if you want to go without running water and electricity for a week and have all your family on the mainland think you're dead. Nothing like it!)And afterwards, when the Red Cross set up disaster relief stations across the island, guess who was culling through the clothing donations on her way to botany class at Kauai Community College? Your favorite hurricane refugee/scrounge-me! Shameless.
Scrooge MacDuck
I am Scottish. And the world has a million and one jokes about the stingy, money-grubbing Scotsman kneeling on the street corner trying to pick up a shilling that's been glued to the cobblestones. And then there's my favorite racist store name; MacFrugal's. Which B pointed out would never had been acceptable if it had been called Frugalstein's, or Frugalberg's.... but I digress.
So I lived in Scotland for a year. And all those same jokes that people make about the Scots and their tight-erm, fistedness, is made by the Scots about people from Aberdeen in Northern Scotland. And where do my family hail from? You guessed it, the Granite City-Aberdonians all.
I first went to thrift stores with my mom when I was in junior high. And my very cool older brother used to take me all over creation to search for things out of which to make art. There was the bowling ball phase, when he had a dream of a public sculpture reconstructing the DNA double helix out of bowling balls and pipe. We got a lot of bowling balls, most of which ended up in our garden.
I think thrift store hunting keeps your brain flexible, you have to be willing to suspend expectation, and develop an eye for a diamond in the rough. This is also known as the Thrift Store Spidey-Sense, and it is something that must be carefully honed, with many trips to some key stores.......
A List
So here you go, my favorite spots. I hesitate to reveal such valuable information, but-it's just you, right? And you wouldn't tell anyone, would you?

Santa Cruz

Family Thrift Center, River Street: it's a bit grotty, but the deals are good-especially on half-off days, of which there are many. You know you are hard-core when you shop the half-off days at a thrift store.

Salvation Army, Pacific Ave: This place can be a boon, usually because across the street are a few hipster vintage stores, and I think Sally's ends up with a lot of their cast-offs. Even better is to go there on a Saturday afternoon after a Mike's Mess from Zachary's across the street. We used to hike the train tracks down from our house to Santa Cruz and eat at Zachary's before collapsing on the dusty gold couches at Sally's, bellies distended. However, there is a 'Quality Loft' which is totally bogus and lame; don't waste your time up there. It's baking hot most of the time, and the last thing you want to smell is a hot thrift store, believe me. (Think: The Great Unwashed.)
Goodwill, Union Street: Right across the street from Mum's office (stop in and say hi & get your teeth cleaned too!) This Goodwill was the scene of an important milestone in my life: my first job. In 1990, I got paid $4.75 an hour to color-coordinate rows of shirts and sweater vests. It was horrible, particularly because my boss was what is known as a Very Mean Person. (I think that's the technical expression.) I only did $4.25 quality work, so I think I came out on top.....
This Goodwill isn't stellar, but it is a consistent workhorse of SC thrift stores, and B and I often drop by.
Abbott's Thrift, Highway 9, Felton: Abbott's has the distinction of being both in an old bowling alley, and run by the Orthodox Church next door.* (SLV has a big Orthie presence.) It's funky and not very clean, lots of dust bunnies a-scurrying, and you can still see the marks from the lanes in the aisles between clothes racks. We think this is a draw. Being Orthodox, I guess, the amount of dowdy homeschool denim jumpers is staggering. The Large and Lovely Dress Corner is...ample. Tuesdays everything except furniture is half-off. We've gotten some good stuff here: like our early sixties coffee table which we scored for $15 last month. Check it out! The staff tend to yell, so just don't step out of line.
*editor's note: I have since been made aware that Abbot's Thrift is a  privately owned enterprise, and NOT owned/run by the Orthodox Church. I stand corrected! Thanks for writing in!


Bargain Barn, Pioneer St., (From River St., left on Encinal, right on Post, right on Pioneer): BB is the last stop for Goodwill's junk before it goes to the tip, or is shot into space, or whatever happens to thrift store junk when it dies. The thing with BB is it's a totally scuzzy, grotty warehouse filled with bins of junk. The guy behind the register who is playing endless Skynard albums & looks like he has been there since the albums first came out? Well, he has. Bring your hand sanitizer and leave your purse in the car. But, the great thing about the Bargain Barn is that everything is around $5 a bag. It used to be better-everything (except books) were sold by the pound; you got great stuff regardless of it's worth. But in those days it was a lot dirtier, and I was once trapped there when the register broke down and I was forced to listen to an entire Grateful Dead album. (whimper) It was quite traumatic, & I still cringe and twitch when I hear that "Sunshine Daydreams" song.....
But the BB has given me many cherished possessions: My flame-toed Mary Jane's, our turquoise bread box, my owl notebook, brown suede jacket and the gaudy gold mirror hanging in our bedroom.

Over There
Happy Dragon, Los Gatos: This place is awesome, and full of that special ingredient that separates the good from the great; I'm talking about the L.O.L.s-Little Old Ladies.
Yep, legions of Happy Dragon volunteer grannies are just waiting to sell you great old stuff at a tiny fraction of what it's worth, all very carefully folded and arranged-complete with price tags written in shaky handwriting. So endearing. So cheap. But a warning: These are not nice L.O.L's. I've seen them get downright cut-throat over prices ("No, honey, those napkin rings are $2.75, NOT $2.50! Didn't you see the sign?! Edith, did you forget to put out the sign? Take this lady back to look at the sign, and then slap her hands. Go on! And don't come back until she weeps!")
Also, the hours can be erratic.
Way Over There
If you are ever visiting Kauai, or any of the Hawaiian islands, take some time from doing the Hukilau and go exploring at some of these hidden gems. They are really really great. Unrivaled, in my opinion. I've spent a lot of time alone in dusty corners of Quonset huts, flipping through old record albums and pristine 50's Hawaiian shirts, listening to the rain on the metal roofs and the wild chickens outside.......
So there you go.


jessica said...

i just got back from a car boot sale to find this post, how fitting! but wow, i'm thrift-store drooling! american thrift stores are fabulous because they're so BIG. massive. the salvation army that used to be by my parent's house was a square mile. sigh. the one that's in an old bowling alley sounds amazing. this post will be bookmarked in case i ever make it to california and want to go a-sortin'.

its nice to see that the lol's inhabit stores globally and not just in leith.

is there anything specifically you look for?

Mum said...

Thank you, darling Rosa for elevating thrifting to a high art. As usual, you take everything and put your own special "thingness" to it.
I have a well thought out theory behind thrifting. It incorporates what a very brash co-worker once told me- "The Eleventh Commandment is 'Thou shalt not buy retail'" and the working out of an anthropological imperative. I think that thrifting is our modern day version of "The Hunt". We don't have to go out and club our food, but we enjoy the chase, pitting our wiles against the unknown. As you well know, I have always said that it doesn't take any imagination or creativity to walk into the Mall and shop. (even though I still have "mother guilt"about the fact that we didn't have the $$$ to do just that)
Since you were going so far afield, I'm surprised you didn't mention the Oxfam stores and disease related charity shops of the UK. I want to give a special plug to the Value Village chain in the Pacific North West and B.C.
Thank you, dear heart!
Love Mum

rosa said...

You know, Jessica, I'm alternately looking for something specific and nothing at all. When we were in Alaska a few months ago, we were running through the streets of Ketchikan so's we could hit a Sallly's before the boat pulled out of port. For no reason. I ended up with a George MacDonald novel that hadn't been edited (mutilated) by Michael Philips, and Brooke got a great coat. But it was purely a by-product of what Mum referred to as the Hunt, and the excitement of what COULD be there when we arrived, panting, stitches in our side. Our American friends who lived in West Kilbride tried to get together a neighborhood block sale, it poured, of course, so everyone ended up selling stuff out of their car boot in the driveway, or in the entry hall. It was pretty pathetic, and the neighbors were sort of bewildered, but willing to try it out, that part was cute.....and go Leith L.O.L.s!

rosa said...

Well, I did learn from a pro!
And I didn't mention all the charity shops in the UK largely because they are a different breed of thrift stores altogether. I don't really like them all that much. I have scored some incredible things there (and so have you!)but they are generally overpriced and full of British clothing from the 1980's. (Which was a pretty terrible decade for fashion over there too.) I think the best thing I've gotten from UK charity shops (Okay, our bedspread from India from the Oxfam in Ilkley notwithstanding), is an interesting perspective on the culture, sort of Britain through the backdoor, which was quite valuable at the time. And the L.O.L.s were pretty fierce and often seemed outraged that we stepped off the tourist trail into their Goiter Awareness Charity Shop or whatever.

The Contessa said...

In the a bit further over there category, I humbly recommend Turnstyles, in my home town of San Mateo. I'm not much of a thrift-shopper (actually, I'm not much of a shopper, period), but me mum works there and the money goes to a good cause (underprivileged children). My best find there, thus far, was a popcorn popper--brand new! No, not one of those ridiculous air-poppers (I never really cared for air-popped corn), but the kind with the crank that you turn to keep the kernels moving, and the vents in the top, to let the steam escape. These poppers make the best popcorn, bar none.

Mum said...

Well Rosa, what do you say? Lets bag off to San Mateo!

rosa said...

Your car or mine?

The Contessa said...

Ooh, count me in! We can make a "Mother/Daughter Day" of it!

Camille said...

Dutch and I are going to hit the Out of the Closet on Polk St, San Francisco, this afternoon-- the best place for men's clothes. (the poor kid needs a sweater!)

rosa said...

so......'Dutch'. Is he?

Linda Pellett said...

Only a year and a half late, I just found your blog. I'm the Office Manager at The Abbot's Thrift in Felton and I must make a correction to your review. We are a PRIVATELY HELD Non-Profit Corporation... we are NOT owned or run by St. Lawrence Orthodox Community Church or any other church for that matter. We do give donations to the church's academy; as well as to many other local charities. Of our fifteen employees, 5 are members of the Orthodox church. The other 10, myself included, are of varied denominations.

And as for the yelling staff. Unfortunately, we do have one employee who tends to talk down to the other person in her department and she does it in a less than subtle voice. Other than that, I would hope if anyone yells or says/does anything offensive that I would be made aware of it so that employee can be properly dealt with.

So please, come on back and let us show you how friendly our staff is and you can help us keep the dust bunnies and blowing leaves out of the store as well. Ah, the joys of being in the mountains.

rosa said...

Hi Linda! Thanks for the look in! You know, it's funny, the day you posted this comment, I had been in Abbot's, thinking about this blog post as I perused the aisles! I must have been thinking of it loudly. I'll add an editor's note to the post; thanks for setting me straight!

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.