Monthly Archives: August 2009

Meet Lulu (or: a gratuitous pug photo)

All three of us overdid it a little last night, so rather than craft a discourse on secondhand shopping, here’s a gratuitous photo of my puppy. I know, I know … you’re welcome.

I’ve been sorting through and jettisoning lots of my (mostly thrifted) junk over the past few weeks. The color grouping on the couch was entirely accidental, then Lulu hopped up and completed the picture. You’ll see more of her here–she’s a garage-sale companion extraordinaire.

  • Ballerina paint by numbers – $2.98 each, Delano DAV
  • Clock radio – $2, YWCA Treasure Chest
  • American Modern saucers – estate auction (price forgotten)
  • Lulu’s collar – free at the multi-family garage sale I participated in earlier this summer.

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What’s a good price?: population and the pain-in-the-ass factor

Over the years I’ve begun to develop an almost unconscious sense of what a “good price” is when it comes to secondhand shopping. I’m not talking value or worth here, because those are more nebulous concepts I can’t quite pin down. But pricing is a little different, a little more precise. I can almost codify pricing.

The venue (garage sale vs. flea market vs. consignment shop) has much to do with it, of course, and I’ll go into that tomorrow. But first, let’s look at the two factors that affect price the most: population and what I’m calling the pain-in-the-ass factor. Let’s turn our attention to this extremely scientific graph:
As you can see, the lowest prices are generally found in places with the smallest populations. No accident there: secondhand prices usually track with the cost of living, and you can’t get much cheaper than teeny rural towns (except perhaps the genuine middle of nowhere, which is rarely the location for a thrift store). 

One major exception to this rule of thumb is tourist towns. If the local economy depends on tourism, even the thrift stores and swap meets are likely to see higher prices than in a larger, non-touristy city (like Wichita).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should jump into your truck (or roomy sedan) and head for the tiniest burg you can think of. Small-town thrifting is not necessarily better, it’s just cheaper. 

The second, more nebulous element is the pain-in-the-ass factor: 
A high PITA factor usually translates into a lower price–or it should, anyway. But even a small PITA element should result in a lower price, or at least better bargaining leverage on your part. If you have to clean, mend, paint, or repair an item–that’s a pain in the ass. If you have to drive far out of your way, carry and haul the goods yourself, or make a special trip–that’s a pain in the ass, too. 

On the other hand, goods with no PITA factor at all can command much higher prices. If a boutique sells vintage goods that are clean, in good condition, displayed creatively, and tagged clearly, and if the staff is happy to fill you in on the item’s details–you’re not likely to be picking up a bargain. I mention boutiques because it’s probably the least PITA way to pick up old things, but it applies to thrift stores and flea markets too. We call the east Disabled American Veterans thrift store the “chi chi DAV” because they have reliably good inventory and their prices are higher–those two things are not unrelated. Similarly, a flea market booth where you have to dig through beer flats and ask how much everything costs should be significantly more reasonable than at the booth where the dealer has set up a miniature antique store. 

Tomorrow I’ll rank types of secondhand venues from the least to the most expensive. In the meantime, let me know what you think: Am I missing something? Have you found small-town thrifting isn’t so cheap after all?

Until next time, happy thrifting!

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Thrift Obsessions: Vintage recipe pamphlets

No surprise: I’m an enormous Mad Men fan. One of the most compelling elements of the show is the portrayal of how the advertising industry commodified family life in order to sell products. Recipe pamphlets from the ’50’s, ’60’s, and ’70’s are a prime example. I love them for many reasons: because I love food and recipes in general, for the vernacular design and typography, for the frequent embrace of  “convenience foods.” 

A couple of months ago we went to an estate sale on Fairview where the garage was packed full of (literally) thousands of cookbooks and recipe pamphlets. Perhaps the family was in the restaurant business; I have a dim memory of getting some background, but I no longer recall. Anyway, we left with a boxful of books, pamphlets, and a couple of scrapbooks full of clippings. Here are a few of my favorites:
The culinary art perfected to pleasing certainty
The Culinary Art Perfected to Pleasing Certainty , Geo. D. Roper Corporation

Though the typography is pretty fabulous, the title is my favorite ingredient in this pamphlet. It sounds like something Peggy Olson might write, no?

Sample copy: “When the dessert course appears, the successful hostess uses care to make it the most unusual and colorful of all served. This acts as the climax of the entire dinner” (from “Correct Table Service,” p. 32).
Meat recipe rally
Meat Recipe Rally, “A service of National Livestock and Meat Board – Home Economics Department”

Key adjective: “Bohemian,” as in “Pot Roast-Bohemian Style” and “Bohemian Beef Dinner.”

Sample recipe: “Meat Salad Hideaways”:

1 can (12 ounces) canned luncheon meat, finely chopped
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped stuffed olives
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 tablespoons catchup
12 frankfurter buns

Combine meat, cheese, olives, onion, eggs, mayonnaise and catchup. Mix well. Spread each bun with approximately 1/3 cup mixture. Wrap in foil and bake in a hot oven (400 F.) for 10 minutes. Yield: 12 sandwiches.

Microwave magic
Microwave Magic, “Recipes from Your Oklahoma Peanut Commission”

The mere existence of this publication makes me happy. Recipes include peanut butter and jam cake, chocolate peanut pie, mushroom-bacon pate, “Mexinut Dip,” and “Autumn Mini-Chip Ring.” Who knew there were so many desserts you can prepare in the microwave, and with peanuts to boot? I’m overwhelmed with curiosity and will undoubtably try at least one recipe from the bunch.
Cooking with a surprising difference
Cooking with a Surprising Difference, the Carnation Company (1966)

I’ll have to scan some of the interior pages of this pamphlet, which is chock full of amazing photos in addition to its breathy copy. One example: 

Make it easy on yourself with Carnation cooking! You can pop pork chops or chicken into the oven to cook themselves (and neither one will become dry or tasteless!). You can glamorize a plain hamburger (that is always juice right through cooking), serve an off-the-shelf Shrimp Rarebit, Tuna Chinese Style or a salad and a cool drink … in minutes.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out what the dessert pictured on the front cover is supposed to be. And it looks so appetizing, too….

Let's season with a reason
Herbs and Spices: Let’s Season for a Reason, Cooperative Extension Service, Kansas State University (December 1974)

“Homemakers find time today for a new hobby,” writes Elsie Lee Miller, extension specialist in food science and meal management. The new hobby is growing herbs, and Ms. Miller guides the curious housewife through their many uses. Sample copy:

As an adventure in seasoning, it is most important to consider every seasoning as a potential flavor developer. Learn its use by adding only a soupcon [sic], as an angel scatters stardust.


Time to leave the world of “Oriental” recipes, stroganoff/romanoff, and food in the shape of logs behind. 

Until next time–happy thrifting.


Filed under Emily, Thrift Obsessions

Thrift Mystery (solved): Tupperware Butter Huggers

Tupperware Butter Up Butter Hugger
One of the thrift stores we hit in Artesia, N.M., was holding a three-dollar bag day for all the goods in their “dollar room.” The “bag” part of bag day turned out to be a tall kitchen trash bag, not the grocery sacks I’m used to frantically stuffing with merchandise.
$3 bag haul
So I was much less discriminating than I might have been otherwise. I picked up two yellow Tupperware utensils and added them to the pile without giving them much consideration. I assumed they were garlic presses. Anthony Bourdain may consider them “abominations,” but I’ve been strangely drawn to vintage Tupperware of late, so into the bag they went.

Upon further examination we discovered they were not in fact garlic presses. I turned to Google, searching for “tupperware utensil,” “tupperware device,” “tupperware handheld,” etc. No dice. My best guess was tea infuser, which sent me on a wild goose chase because Tupperware has produced an infuser recently. In a moment of inspiration, Melissa hit upon its use: a combination corn-on-the-cob butterer/salter. Of course they originally came as a set with cob holders.

And lo and behold, Tupperware is still producing Butter Huggers, now new and improved with two compartments for salt and pepper.

We’ll have to grill some summer sweet corn soon.

Until next time, happy thrifting!


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A secondhand nursery

With my first daughter, I bought everything new. I spent $500 on nursery furniture. I spent $400 on nursery bedding with coordinating decor. (Not to mention all the extras they tell you that you’ll need!) Every baby place I went convinced me that I needed this or I needed that. Have you seen the registry “suggestion” lists out there? In no way does anyone need all that stuff! It only took me one child to learn that lesson.

This is Charlotte’s nursery. It is almost completely second hand. She is 18 months old now, and a big girl room is just around the corner. You can bet it will be thrifted too!



The petite chandelier is from Target ($19.99) and it was in Brooklyn’s room when she was a baby. This dresser was a thrifted find, for $19.98. This is what it looked like when I found it:

dresser before

Primer and Paint, and a stash of hardware, are secret weapons every thrifter should have!

I found this pottery barn kids crib with mattress at a garage sale I just happened by, for $100!



The crib bumper was from target (clearance $13.98) and the PBK crib sheet was on clearance for $9. I have lots and lots of crib sheets that I have thrifted. I have seen complete bedding sets (sheet/bumper/dust ruffle) at thrift stores for $2.98! I find sheets for $1.98. This striped dust ruffle was thrifted for $1.98. I will never pay full retail price for baby bedding again. I have found such great quality at thrift stores for so much less!


I found this toy box at Paramount Antique mall. It was already that peachy pink color, and only $14. It even had a safety hinge!


The hat hook bar also came from Paramount. ($16) I love that place. The ladies (and gentlemen) who work there are so nice. They have incredible customer service. You can join Paramount’s email list, and you will receive emails when they are having storewide sales. During sale weekends, the booths are anywhere from 10-30% off. And I will share a little insiders tip: if you are purchasing an item over $20, that isn’t already on sale or discounted and not marked firm, you can politely request that they take 10% off. They will almost always give the discount if you ask. (This isn’t considered rude or insulting, the dealers are aware of this secret when pricing their items. I may have been a dealer at one point in time…)

The old dresses were collected here and there from garage sales, thrifting, and ebay. The yellow one I bought for $6 at an antique mall. I don’t usually like to buy these from malls because they are somewhat popular and too pricey.


The blue green stool was thrifted for $8. Vintage jewelry box $2.98, vintage embroidered ‘C’ was $7, vintage lampshade $2.98, all thrifted.


Vintage wicker doll cradle (in that perfect shade of pink) was $15, from paramount. The sweet little baby was from the chichi DAV for $8.98.


This baby book is from the 1920’s. It was filled out, complete with pictures, cards, and even a lock of hair! I found it at an antique mall in Salina for $12.

I spray painted the little shelf. I love the old dingy baby lamb. She was the inspiration for Charlie’s room…


The vintage bear was free at a garage sale. The vintage bunny was $3. The grey frame was on clearance for $3.

I hope you enjoyed a peek at my second hand nursery! Stay tuned for Brooklyn’s room…

Happy Thrifting!


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Junking (and a history lesson) in Palominas, Arizona

My fiance’s family moved to the Sierra Vista, Ariz., area when he was twelve years old, and every time we go back he’s full of notes about what’s changed: the roads that have been paved, the wide open spaces that have been sliced into individual plots of land, the chain stores (almost nonexistent in the early 80’s) that have moved in.Snake in the road
We saw the snake right outside Brian’s parents’ property on our way to check out the junk scene in Palominas, one of the small towns (population 1200) in Cochise County. I’m not super spooked by snakes, but I did stay in the truck while Brian took its picture.
Brian’s mom had seen an item in the Sierra Vista Herald about a new thrift shop in Palominas, which was the impetus of the trip. But first we spied this building, which oxymoronically advertised a “yard sale inside.”

The goods weren’t spectacular or especially well priced, but I did find a few things, among them a slew of vintage buttons for $1.
Vintage buttons
I took few pictures inside because the power was out when we arrived, but I did try to get a shot of the shopkeeper’s parrot. I should have taken her up on the offer to move outside for the photo.

I wasn’t as nosy as I should have been, but I got the impression that Parrot Lady had just purchased or inherited the building and was trying to decide what to do with it. I overheard her tell another patron that someone had suggested a weekly farmer’s market.

The “thrift store” we were searching for is located at the corner of Healing Way and East Ghost Riders Lane, which (as far as I’m concerned) is as good a reason as any to stop by. It used to house the old Palominas Country Store; the new owners are keeping the name, as they sell milk, ice, candy bars, snacks, and soda along with secondhand items. The gas pumps remain but no longer dispense gas (there’s a newer gas station up the street with an attached mini-mart).
The store is across the street from the abandoned Miracle Valley Bible College, founded in 1958 by alcoholic Pentecostal faith healer A.A. Allen. The Palominas Country Store is likely the same gas station built in the 50’s by the for-profit arm of Allen’s organization. In 1978, Chicago native Frances Thomas, an ordained alumna of the Bible college, purchased  land north of the school and established Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church, an all-black faith community.

The church’s history in Miracle Valley was marked by racial tension and conflict between church members and local law enforcement. In 1982, a fight broke out when sheriff’s deputies attempted to serve traffic warrants to several residents. Two church members died in the event known as the shootout at Miracle Valley. Church members vowed to leave the area, and two years later settled a case against the county for $500,000.

The shootout happened more than 25 years ago and the Bible college is riddled with broken windows, but Palominas is still an odd place. Brian says he always had the sense that its residents were people seeking isolation, who would rather stay close to home. Approximately 30 businesses are located there, so residents can avoid the 15-minute drive to Sierra Vista if they so desire.
We shopped in the dark here, too, so I only have a few crappy flash photos of the merchandise. Almost everything was $1 or less.
The aqua rotary phone was one exception ($4). Awfully tempting, but I passed.

We left with a vintage shot glass ($1), a Smokey the Bear mug by Glassbake (fifty cents), an unusual tin canister set for Melissa ($3), and a giant antique safety pin ($1).

The verdict on Palominas junking: well worth it. But then I’m always more drawn to places stocked with dusty goods and strange pets over the hyper-organized thrift experience. Maybe it’s just me.


Filed under Emily, Shopping Trips

The thrifting news roundup, August 13 2009

Lately I’ve been seeking out news about thrift shops, garage sales, and secondhand shopping culture. These stories are rare: junk stores don’t send out press releases, and the pages of  local business sections mostly highlight the larger local players alongside small businesses that cater to the middle class.

Which means when thrifting hits the news, the content is usually surprising. Herewith, a summary of notable secondhand shopping news from the past couple of weeks:

  • 6a00d83451be3369e2011570e88984970c-piMagazine devoted to ‘Flea Market Style’ to debut next spring (Minneapolis Star-Tribune): Shelter magazines have been hit the hardest in this soft market, but it seems like new publications are popping up all over anyway. Ki Nassauer of Junk Revolution and lifestyle author Matthew Mead will be co-editors; the creative team will include Heather Bullard, Linda MacDonald of Restyled Home and the guy who hosts Cash in the Attic. I’m wearying of seeing flowery vintage/junk style everywhere; here’s hoping for more diverse content. And “the best things to collect” (from the cover mock-up) sounds obnoxiously prescriptive, but perhaps it will be more like the “Collecting” feature that Martha Stewart Living used to produce.
  • Woman solves her own burglary at a yard sale, Annapolis, Md. (UPI). I’d love to report and write a longer version of this story: It seems emblematic of these economic times (the burgled house had been foreclosed on), and I imagine more fascinating details would come to light. My favorite part: The robbery victim caught on when she noticed that the neighbor holding the yard sale was wearing one of her stolen t-shirts. The most salient detail: Police suspect he stole more than $25,000 in goods.
  • l304268-1Thrift shop says ‘yes’ to defunct store’s old letters, Tuscon (Arizona Daily Star): Yes Thrift in Tuscon recycled a handful of letters from Mervyn’s old signs when the department store went out of business. The owner reports that the enormous bright blue letters–which now decorate two sides of their sign as well as the side of their building–have attracted increased business since the beginning of the year. The best part: Mervyn’s was going to crush and dispose of the letters.
  • Mad Men set decorator searches for period furniture in Pasadena-area stores (Los Angeles Times): Great story that follows Amy Wells around on one of her vintage shopping trips–mostly to antique shops, but she hits the Salvation Army for accessories, too. (And I can’t resist a Mad Men mention.)

We’ll keep an eye out for more interesting junking news. In the meantime, happy thrifting!

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