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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‘Champions don’t give junk’


We picked up this flyer at the AGH Auxiliary Thrift Store in Artesia, N.M. I saved it because I loved the little lecture (“Don’t ask the volunteers to do your dirty work”), but disposing of unsaleable crap is a major problem for almost every thrift shop.

A recent article in the Birmingham (Ala.) News discusses the problem:

Worn-out chairs, soiled mattresses and torn couches are often illegally disposed outside Goodwill by people trying to get rid of their garbage without going to a landfill.

“Every morning when we come in, there is stuff dumped out front,” said Caroline Thomas, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit organization that provides education, training and career services for disadvantaged and disabled people.

The chief operating officer of an Alabama-based chain of thrift stores is quoted as saying his organization spends about $1 million a year in landfill costs to get rid of donated junk. Like many thrift shops, they cut down on disposal costs by donating excess goods to less picky charities, some overseas.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve undoubtably donated sub-par stuff to thrift shops before. Next time I’ll make a better effort to make sure everything is clean and in working order. Meanwhile, perhaps I’ll think twice before acquiring junk destined to be a thrift-shop donation. (Maybe.)

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Garage sale signs: their greatest hits

Thad's early-bird sign

Running across interesting signage is one of my favorite parts of garage-sale shopping. No matter what this crankypants thinks, I love the color they add to the urban landscape every summer weekend.

Thad made the above sign for his garage sale last weekend, which highly amused everyone who came to help out. (It worked: No one knocked on the front door before 8 a.m.) Here are some of the best garage-and-yard-sale signs culled from around the web.


[yard sale signs by Captain_Glitterpants]

These signs discouraging earlybirds may be the most creative I’ve seen. My favorite: “Johnny Cochran says … ‘If it’s not 8, you must wait!’

Doubletake-worthy content

[X-Wife Yard Sale, originally uploaded by eraut.]

My researched turned up a few different garage-sale signs in this general vein. They range from defiant to sad.

[Day 15/365 – Best Yard Sale sign Ever!, originally uploaded by Racergirl1313.]

Honesty really is the best policy, don’t you think? I love that “yard sale” is in parentheses, just in case a wandering stable owner misconstrued the sign as an offer of free manure.

Pop-Culture References

Not sure which I like better about this sign: the message, or the design’s homage to the Clash’s first album. Found at World Famous Design Junkies, along with a Sex Pistols-inspired sign.

Best. Yard Sale. Ever.

[Best.Yard.Sale.Ever., originally uploaded by BrittneyBush]

Find many bargains, you will.  Hmmmmmm. (Full disclosure: I’m not a Star Wars expert, so I relied on the Yoda-Speak Generator to come up with that sentence. For all your Yoda translation needs, check it out.)


[Seattle Yard Sale Sign, originally uploaded by mindfulbreath]

Okay, this sale may have taken place in Seattle, but I can hear my Bostonian uncle say it in his hometown accent.

I couldn’t post this Flickr photo, but it’s my favorite example of a regional sign. From Hollywood, Calif.:  “Help Fiance [sic] My Films.”

I found so many bizarre, pretty, and funny signs I started a Flickr group to collect them. So stay tuned for the greatest hits, vol. 2.

Until next time, happy thrifting!


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Friend Fridays: Chandra’s summer dresses


Our friend Chandra has one of the best-developed personal styles of almost anyone I know. She’s been impressing me with her thrift-shopping capabilities ever since we first met five years ago, and (even better) almost all of the thrifted dresses I own came into my life via Chandra’s closet. She’ll soon graduate with an MFA in poetry from Wichita State, but I think Chandra should start a thrift-store personal shopping service on the side. I know I’d be a client.

Chandra purchased the above red-and-white flowered dress at a $10 bag sale at the Salvation Army on Seneca and 31st Street South. (“The friends I was with weren’t that impressed at the time. Some people have no imagination.”) The gray vintage purse is from the YWCA Treasure Chest on one of their 50% off days ($1.48).


Chandra selected this demure green-and-white dress to wear last Easter. Personally, I’m jealous of the amazing print ($3, the Salvation Army in Lawrence, Kansas).

As the $10 clothing bag queen, Chandra has graciously agreed to expound at length on the topic in the future. For now, here’s her basic advice for buying thrifted clothing:

  • Check for stains.
  • Make sure all zippers and seams are in decent shape.
  • Don’t be afraid to try everything on.
  • If you read fashion magazines, tear out looks you like, then keep an eye out when you’re thrifting. Chandra carries her favorite clippings in her wallet.

Many thanks to Chandra for sharing her finds. And thanks also to Jack, the photogenic puggle pictured alongside Chandra.

Until next time, happy thrifting!

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Garage-sale bargaining etiquette: a handy guide


[Image by sleepingplanes on Flickr]

Bargaining is entirely acceptable at garage sales, but civility rules. Or should, anyway. People can get awfully testy when used goods are exchanged for cash. I wonder if it’s because there is no codified bargaining ritual in the United States, no script that everyone knows. The following is my proposal, though it’s probably colored somewhat by the number of garage sales I’ve participated in this summer; I’d love to hear from other garage-sale addicts in the comments.

  1. It’s acceptable to offer a lower price at pretty much any time, but understand that sellers are not going to be receptive on the morning of the first day of their sale, especially if it’s a three-day affair. You’re getting first dibs, after all.
  2. Don’t make absurd offers. If it’s marked $15, don’t offer $3 unless the sale is truly waning (all hell breaks lose after 12 p.m. on the last day). And if the price is dirt cheap already, buy it and be glad. At one sale I participated in this summer, a lovely and never-used picnic basket set was marked $5; one lady offered $2 (one hour into the sale on a Thursday, no less). Garage sales are where you go to get bargains, not gifts or charity. Side note: If you’re carrying a Coach purse or wearing Prada shoes, you’re not in a very good bargaining position to begin with. Not that well-t0-do people don’t deserve bargains, but I will not be selling Coach Purse Lady anything for a dime, no matter how many times she asks.
  3. Don’t insult the item in an attempt to save a few bucks. “$5 for this thing? Why, they sell ’em for two at the thrift stores” (then go pick one up at a thrift store). Or, “These really aren’t that valuable anymore, not many people collect them” (then why are you interested?) or “This looks like it may fall apart at any minute” (ditto). It’s one thing to point out a crack or hole and ask if it affects the price, but quite another to act like one of those douchey guys who work the bizarre angle of insulting women in order to pick them up. Have a little class.
  4. Once you agree to a price, that’s it. No backsies.
  5. My friend Jill swears by the question, “What is your best price?” It’s a considerably less antagonistic way to begin negotiations (and Jill insists it works in more situations than you’d think).
  6. Be aware of what the best bargain items are. Used clothes, shoes, toys, and linens are hard to get rid of at garage sales, so if you find a cache of worn jeans just your size, it’s more than okay to ask for a better deal. Items still in their original packaging, with tags, or obviously unused command a much higher price at garage sales, followed closely by clean things that have been very well taken care of–don’t expect sellers to be as willing to practically give away new or like-new stuff.
  7. Cardinal Bargaining Sin #1: Asking for the third time. If a seller says no to an offer once and there’s an extenuating circumstance involved–a flaw, it’s all the money you have, you’re completely desperate, whatever–okay, fine, ask again. But after that, pursuing it is enormously rude and cretinous. (That’s right: not just rude, but rude and cretinous.) I’ve even had persistent bargainers agree to my price and then hand me the amount they originally proposed. Uh uh.
  8. Cardinal Bargaining Sin #2: Taking it personally. We’ve all done this at one time or another, right? Walked away fuming about that so-and-so who refused a perfectly good offer and doesn’t realize her crap is overpriced and … blabbity blah. Here’s the deal: Ten different people will assign ten different values to the same object. (The Price Is Right thrived for many years off of this phenomenon.) So you value something differently than the seller does. Big deal. It happens. It’s just stuff. Move on without letting it ruin your day.
  9. Understand that there’s are many different schools of thought when it comes to pricing and bargaining at garage sales, and adjust your behavior accordingly. Plenty of people leave “bargaining room” in their prices, but others expect you to pay the amount on the sticker. If a seller acts horrified by your attempts at bargaining, let it go and move on if you don’t wanna pay up. If she’s practically begging you to cart things away for nothing then by all means, bargain freely.
  10. Be human. Compliment a garden, a child, a color of paint; whatever’s appropriate. You never know what sort of odd or oddly revealing conversations you might have if you put forth a little effort. I like reading Queen of Fifty Cents because she reports on the people (and pets) in addition to the bargains, and inspires (slightly socially awkward) me to do the same. Paradoxically, polite and engaging buyers get the very best deals of all.


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Bizarre thrift coincidence #1: the contour chair lounge

Contour Chair Lounge Advertisment 1976

[From McCalls, April 1976, uploaded by jackie121467 on Flickr.]

Alert readers will have noted the oddly shaped chair pictured in one of the photos from Thad’s garage sale:

A couple of fabulous green chairs

It’s a contour chair lounge, which was produced by the aptly named Contour Lounge Chair Co. of St. Louis, Mo., from the 1950’s to the 80’s. The above chair is probably one of the earlier models, which reclines when you depress a wooden lever on the right-hand side. Later models were motorized and sometimes included “thermonic heat and viveration” (vibration). What most interests me about the contour lounges is that they were some of the earliest examples of ergonomic devices. The chairs were custom made based on each customer’s measurements; the idea is that, when reclined, the entire body is supported and relaxed, feet above heart, back and neck cradled. This hilarious commercial from 1984 highlights all the features of “the most comfortable, most relaxing chair made in the world today”:

The chairs aren’t really collector’s items–designwise they’re interesting but flawed (those ugly arms!)–but they certainly have a following. I would put an approximate value of $150-500 on a chair in good vintage condition (the price would vary depending upon the upholstery and of course the location of the sale).

Those of you who know me or have studied the about page know that I used to own a shop. We sold home accessories, gifts, stationery, vintage items, and revamped old furniture. Two years ago I bought a contour chair from a living estate sale off of 119th St and replaced the torn seafoam vinyl with a durable navy blue Pindler & Pindler fabric (a single chair uses about seven yards of fabric, by the way). I can personally testify to its comfort level, because it lived in our living room for a few months before the store opened and it was reupholstered, and I fell asleep in it many times. (The only picture of the chair I could find is this photo on Manic Thrift Store Shopper.)

It turns out my friend Daniel owned a double contour chair that he and his wife loved but didn’t have room for. That thing was huge. So of course I bought it and had it recovered in red velvet:


Odd side note: Bonnie Bing featured the chair in a Wichita Eagle Valentine’s Day-themed fashion spread.

So what is the amazing and bizarre thrift coincidence involving the contour lounge chair? Well, guess who appeared at Thad’s garage sale and spirited away the space-conscious single-wide lounge? None other than Daniel and his wife, Pam. Surely the chair will bring them good luck and happiness, because it was clearly meant to be theirs.

I do not believe in anything so imaginative as thrifting gods, but if they did exist I could imagine them chortling over the master orchestration of this particular series of exchanges.

(Stay tuned for bizarre thrift coincidence #2, which involves Georges Briard, thrifted gifts, Anna’s house, and my own procrastination. Until then, happy thrifting!)


Filed under Emily, Synchronicity

Thad’s garage sale


Our friend Thad’s grandma died recently. This weekend he’s holding a garage/estate sale to sell most of her possessions, so Melissa and I went over to help set up today. (Here she’s wearing a handmade smock we found in a box of linens which just so happens to match her kitchen exactly.) This is the third garage sale I’ve participated in this summer, the first time I’ve helped with a sale since I was a middle-schooler and a family I babysat for had yearly sales. It turns out I love hanging out at garage sales all day. For one thing, it’s entirely appropriate to drink beer in the morning when you’re having a garage sale. For another, it’s an easy way to get a tan. But my very favorite part? Best people watching ever. Garage-sale shoppers are usually hard-core and occasionally nuts.

Next week we’re going to pool our collective garage-sale wisdom and offer a few tips for both buyers and sellers. For now we’re helping out and taking notes. The sale will be held at 932 S Holyoke near Lincoln & Hillside tomorrow and Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. I snapped a few photos of the goods while we were arranging everything.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos before we’d stacked the furniture underneath a canopy. The green rattan-frame armchair and ottoman are amazing. There’s a matching glass-topped coffee table, too. I love the pattern. Thad has all three pieces priced at $150. The chaise recliner underneath it is a little beat up but still functional ($25).

Some of the more valuable and collectible dishes and housewares. My favorite: a four-piece metal canister set with matching salt and pepper shakers ($12). There’s also a small selection of Fire King, Pyrex, Fiestaware, and a few primitive odds and ends.

I’m a little mad for the Marblehead game ($35). I wanted to be sure to take a photo of the picture, since Kali likes representations of mothers and daughters.

I already snagged my two favorite pieces of costume jewelry, but there’s lots more plus many fun small things like the souvenir-of-Kansas magnifying glass, a couple of religious medals, and a membership coin to a superhero club of some sort. (See more photos of sparkly things on Flickr.)

Thad has lots of tools for sale which is great, because when people holler “Do you have any tools for sale?” from their trucks, we can yell “YES!” For some reason, this seems to be the number one question of garage-sale shoppers. Some seasoned sellers also theorize that guy stuff like tools means couples will spend more time at your sale. And one thing retail and thrifting have in common is that the more time spent browsing, the likelier the customer is to spend money.

I’m off to buy some High Life or PBR (the top garage-sale beers, in case you were wondering). Do stop by and say hi this weekend if you can. Otherwise, until next time–happy thrifting!

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