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!