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Thrift Shop – And Save

Do you wish you could decorate your home in tasteful antiques, or follow the latest high-tech trend?

How about your clothes closet — can you afford to fill it with classic, high-quality pieces?

Want to give memorable presents (often still with price tags attached, or in original boxes), or thoughtful hostess gifts…

And do all this for dimes, or even pennies on the dollar?

Get thee to a thrift shop — FAST.

Ms. Golightly in her basic black dress — from the Thrifty Chicks blog. Price: $8.99.

    This summer, I traveled through several states, and had the chance to visit thrift shops in each one. What I found, regardless of the area, were quality clothing, furnishings and general goodies — all at a fraction of their original price. (That is if you could even find them, in the case of the antiques.) Here are a few things I found:

*Several classic ship etchings, 19th and early 20th century, all in original frames. ($3 each – Virginia)

*Heavy black wool turtleneck, with a small label that marked it as from one of the Antarctic research stations, in pristine condition ($5 – North Carolina) I picked up a set of hand-blown Mexican glass goblets at the same place — $2 each.

*Antique Haviland Limoges pink rose chocolate pot, with three matching cups & saucers ($5/$3 for the cups/saucers – Massachusetts) My pot looks like the Ebay listing below — but I paid $15. (This one’s up for sale at $125.)

Lest you think this was just a summertime fluke, my hometown Colorado thrift shops have contributed over the years:

     Paintings and prints, including Pieter Breughel’s Hunters in the Snow (see below); a down-stuffed easy chair, upholstered in paisley fabric, with matching footstool ($40); several alpaca and cashmere sweaters ($5 or less); custom-made cowboy boots ($10); a leather jacket with heavy fur collar I get compliments on every winter ($19.95); wooden stands, bookcases and authentic wool Oriental rugs (less than $40 each); a large roll of chicken fencing (just got this recently for $4)and a first edition of Amelia Earhart’s autobiography. (Paid $3, sold it for $55 and change on Amazon.)

Large-scale print, in a vintage wood frame — $20.

One daughter buys most of her clothing at “Sally’s,” the local Salvation Army shop in Boulder, near where she lives. A leather jacket she found for $20 was the envy of her L.A. college roommate, who often borrowed it for trips back home. But Daughter’s best score? A pair of handmade Italian leather high-heeled pumps, with labels that marked them as used on the fashion runway. Their cost? $5.

Sure, you can find some bargains visiting garage sales in your area. But items from those same sales are often donated to the local thrift shop afterwards. Why not stop there first, particularly on a Monday or Tuesday, when the weekend donations have been priced and put out on the sales floor?

     Don’t forget resale, either. An educated eye, particularly on vintage chic, and careful attention to cost, can net bargains to sell again. One of my favorite thrift shop bloggers, Ms. Golightly of the Thrifty Chicks, has her own online store for just that purpose. Many Etsy businesses use vintage and handmade pieces gleaned from thrift shops. And they make a good profit at it, too.

     Others, like Thrifty and Chic, enjoy repurposing their finds into one-of-a-kind items, both for hand-tailored clothes and unusual home dec accents. Road Kill Rescue expands this idea to include items found by the side of the road. And Funky Junk Interiors, in addition to her own projects, hosts a ‘upcycled link party’ that shows what you can do with basic items and a little imagination. A good example of the DIY projects that appear each week: aRestoration Hardware-inspired table, made at Aka Design. (Buying the original would have cost much, much more.)

     A careful check of thrift shop shelves will also produce all sorts of tsotchkes, from statues to art glass bowls, hand-tooled boxes and goofy themed mugs (many unused), crystal candlesticks and craft items. Look especially for candles – most have never been lit. These are perfect for small gifts. Even better, if you’re in the market for wedding or birthday presents: check for small appliances like coffeemakers, crockpots, and specialty items like pasta makers, Sodastreams or fondue sets. Not only can you often find these unused and in their original box — you’ll be paying a lot less. (Stop by especially after Christmas, when many people donate unwanted presents. They get a tax donation — you upgrade your gift list.)

Plenty of tips are out there for best thrift shopping, but I use these over and over:

*Visit thrift shops in higher-income areas.  Or look for thrift stores connected with a prosperous church or hospital. These are bound to have high-end donors.

*Stop by regularly. The really good stuff is snapped up quickly. Best times: early in the week; early fall (right after the summer garage sales die down), or just after the holidays. You may find nothing one visit — then a flood of possibilities the next.

    Another positive: once the staff gets to know you, they’ll alert you to Good Stuff more quickly.

*Keep a list of items you need — including your gift recipients’ sizes, preferred labels, colors, etc.

*Know what to look for. Learn the details that distinguish good construction in furniture, or spend some time studying vintage styles. Knowing the difference, for example, between real Depression Era Carnival glass and cheap reproductions, can net you hundreds of dollars. For each piece.

*Insist on quality.  Educate yourself on high-end labels, brands and higher-quality fabrics. Look for classic pieces and items you can wear and use for years to come. The only exception: trendy items you loveeven if they’ll be out of style shortly. (At least you paid less.)

*Be willing to improvise. The same auntie who is fond of cashmere sweaters may flip just as much over a similar throw. That wonderful-but-too-long designer suit can easily be shortened by a reputable tailor. If the item is a timeless classic, it might be perfect for resale.

*Look for sales. Many thrift shops offer BOGO specials, 50% off sales — or my favorite, the “all you can stuff in a bag for one price” sale. If you’ve been visiting regularly, even the items you thought a little too expensive suddenly become more affordable. Get on their mailing lists, or visit their Facebook page to make sure you’re notified.

*Volunteer!  Not only will you be helping others — but you’ll get a firsthand peek at items as they come in. (Don’t forget: donate your items, too, and get a nice tax benefit in the process.) My favorite local shop, Treasures on Park Street, gives food and help to hundreds of families each year, thanks to thrift shoppers and generous donors. (Take a look at their gallery here.) Yes, I volunteer for them, because I believe in their cause. But I also have saved literally thousands of dollars in clothing, home furnishings and specialty items — many of higher-quality than I could afford if I purchased them new.

Stretch your budget, and do it with quality items — visit a thrift shop.