Although I dabbled in thrifting as a child, it wasn’t until my early teens did my obsession with thrifting skyrocket. I was a thrifting connoisseur and I was intimately familiar with each store in town plus several stores in the surrounding towns. I knew when they put their new items out and how often they had sales.
The very, very best thrift store ever was run by a volunteer force that was associated with the local hospital. They turned an old house from the 1920s into a thrift store and it was three levels of absolute thrifting bliss. The volunteers were the nicest of all the places, too. They were elderly and kind and always spoke gently to me even though I was in full-on Awkward Teen Mode, complete with doc martens, ripped jeans, flannel shirts, and hair shockingly dyed with manic panic or kool aid. My hair was chopped short and shaved in the back and I often wrote on my hands. Maybe they were so kind to me because their vision was going, but not everyone in my small town were so eager to see kids my age in their stores.
The old house itself was gorgeous. The kitchen and dining room were filled with shelves and tables that held the housewares while racks and racks of clothing filled the living room and upstairs. There was one bedroom set aside just for men’s clothes and it always seemed to be filled with fedoras and canes and suspenders and leather shoes. They never ran short on complete, three-piece polyester suits from the 1970s. You had your pick of color.
Each room had a theme and although that was designated ‘menswear’ they could have called it ‘Grandpa.’ That room also housed a selection of vintage suitcases, mostly Samsonite, but some that looked very much older, too.
The second floor was filled with racks upon racks of children’s and women’s clothes, and the linen closet was filled with vintage linens. When I entered high school I traded my flannel for vintage polyester shirts that I bought by the armload for a quarter each. One of the smaller bedrooms held only formal dresses and coats: leather coats, fur-trimmed coats, 80s ski coats. You just can’t waltz into a thrift store now and find coats like that or good polyester shirts. I had no idea how good I had it.
I’d spend anywhere from $5-$15 and make out like a bandit. I didn’t buy any of my clothes (with the exception of taking a special trip to the mall once a year for more Docs) new for about four years. My closet was stuffed to the gills with second hand clothes, many from this thrift store.
Halfway up the staircase was a little landing and all of the sewing and craft-related items, along with winter hats, were kept here. Next to the landing was a little bathroom customers were technically not allowed to use, but the kindly old ladies insisted I try on some of my purchases there to be sure they fit properly.
The very best part about this house was the basement: it was nothing but shelf after shelf of books.
Basements aren’t at all common where I live. I don’t know of anyone who even has a basement, and it’s possible California’s earthquake codes make them illegal. But this house was old and it had a very small, creaky basement. I’m sure basements can seem very scary under normal conditions, but this one was so full of books there was no other way to describe it than just plain friendly. I read voraciously and brought home stacks and stacks of vintage books, most of it nonfiction, that carried back to my house in a cardboard box. Some of my favorite books to this day were gleaned from that basement: Natural Cooking, Don’t Throw It, Grow It, a hilarious book of manners called “Don’t” written by an anonymous author who chose to call herself, “Censor”, and a book called Living Poor with Style.
Sometime after I graduated the thrift store closed its door without any sort of warning. I don’t think I’ve ever quite recovered.