Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ooh! Look what I found!

After Erik died I worked for a number of  years as a volunteer at our local Hospice Thrift Shop.  Now I have to confess that before going to work at this shop, I had never in my life set foot in a thrift store.  I knew they existed and had made contributions from time to time, but I had not considered them as a real alternative to the commercial retail establishments where I shopped.

And I still don't. Not for me.  Because I am a destination shopper.  I do not window-shop, I cannot spend a couple of hours browsing just for the fun of it.  I am not a shop-'til-you-drop shopper.  I need a purse, I go into one of the big department stores and pick out a purse among the many offerings.   I need a pair of shoes, I do the same. Then I go home.  Shopping bores me.  Sorry, girls, but that's just how it is.

But thrift-store shopping is another thing.  You cannot go in with a preconceived notion of what you want to buy, because you probably won't find it.  Someone will ask."Do you have a....?"  And the answer will be, "I think we had one a week or so ago.  Keep trying."  If you have your mind set on something specific try another source. But for the  the shopper with an open mind and a good eye, the thrift store is a treasure house!    People will bring a beautiful suit, or a brand new pair of name-brand shoes or maybe a lovely ceramic from our "boutique" to the checkout. Things I had walked right by without seeing. (A "good eye" is the key.)

Our local store is a pleasant place to shop.  It is clean, well-organized and well-managed.  There is a paid staff of several people,  and a large corps of volunteers.  It is a cheerful place.  My short-sighted vision of an under-privileged clientele rummaging through life's left-overs was soon thrown in the dust-heap where it belonged.  Our customers were of all ages and classes, just as in a regular retail store.  Craftspeople looking for materials for their projects,  collectors hoping to score a rare find, readers checking out the bookshelves, families stocking up on back-to-school clothing.  There is a large jewelry selection, always popular.  Racks of Halloween costumes, a fraction of the price anywhere else.  Need a few jigsaw puzzles for the summer cabin?  A second TV for the kid's room?  Bedding, dishes, furniture, toys, electronics, and lots of clean, up-to-date, attractive clothing for all members of the family.

Of course, as a dedicated people-watcher, the customers were my favorite part of the job.  I was a "bag lady"...that is, I worked at the checkout counter, bagging the purchases in donated bags.  (Your second-hand coffee-pot could go home in a Saks Fifth Avenue bag, or a Dollar Store bag.)  Many of the people who came in were regulars.   One couple always came when there was a clothing sale and would buy $100 dollars worth, or more, of $3.00-4.00 dollar items, enough to fill several large garbage bags.  These things they boxed up and sent to relatives in the Philippines.  Another gentleman came periodically and bought many house decoration items, such as lamps, floral arrangements, book sets.  We figured he was furnishing rental units or something of the sort.  Another couple, who could only be described as aging flower children, came often.  She had long gray hair caught into a pony tail and he had a braided beard which reached to his waist.  They bought jewelry which they resold at flea markets.  A pleasant pair and we always enjoyed having them drop in.  There were the others:  One young man tried on several wedding gowns before departing, leaving the gowns in a heap on the dressing room floor.  Once a customer who did not agree with the shop's "no returns" policy, threw a telephone in a rage.   A lady who had not bathed in many moons was asked to leave.  Another time, a woman whose kids were running wild took exception to the manager's request that she rein them in.  We had a shop-lifter or two and some bad checks.  One lady offered to cover her bad check with another check!  I guess anybody who has ever worked with the public has experienced all this and more but it was all new to little ole me.

I often mused on all this merchandise and where it had come from.  It had once been chosen and paid for  by someone and then discarded or abandoned or maybe donated after a death.  We got many half-finished knitting projects,  partially sewn garments, abandoned art projects.  I thought to myself, someone once started these projects with a happy heart.  I wonder what happened to stop them midway, half-finished, sometimes with the needle still threaded and stuck in the fabric. The most poignant to me were the inscriptions.  In a book, "To Billy from Grandpa and Grandma."  Scratched into a copper pot, "April 10, 1935."  On the back of an old photo, "To May, with love." What happened to Billy?  What was the significance of April 10, 1935?   Who was May?    So many stories untold and now lost forever on the shelves of a thrift store in Lakeport, California.

But!  A new life for these items!!  Another Billy reading the book.  Someone else arranging flowers in the old copper pot.  A collector's album enriched by a pioneer woman's picture. We are a throw-away society.  Think of the bounty that goes into the landfills of our country every day.  Isn't it great that these shops exist to recycle and reuse all this valuable resource.......

Well, here I am prattling on and on again.  But, as I said when I started this blog, this is mostly for my own entertainment and no one has to read it.  So if you  have come this far, you have no one to blame but yourself.  But next time you are feeling a little adventurous, drop by your local thrift store and see what you might find that you absolutely cannot live without.  And at a price that you cannot believe!

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