Tales from the Thrift Store Aisles

The interesting thing about the thrifting scene is that it absolutely abounds with stories. Stories of the items themselves, yes-- who things belonged to and when, and how they wended their way to the thrift store... But also tales of strangers' thrifting triumphs: how those items made it to new homes and the meaning they have for the new owners. These are moments we share with each other as we shop.

Of course, thrifting also shows some interesting angles on humanity. On competition, on getting along and on just plain ol' personal responsibility.

Today I'll share with you all just a few of my most memorable ones.

I think my favorite thrifting story comes from the Greensburg Goodwill... I'd gone there after my friend Kitty's wedding shower (because, hey, there was time and the temptation to just stop in was too strong). And as I wandered the housewares, one aisle over I heard a little exclamation of joy.

I came around the corner, and there was a young woman of about thirty, bouncing a bit on her heels over a stack of dishes. Her happiness was so explosive, I couldn't help but ask her, "Find something good?"

And that's when she relayed to me in a rush how this simple set of Corelle dishes were the exact same ones her grandmother had had, and which she'd always loved. She'd been looking for some for years, and here they were... and entire set. She was so excited, she had to call her husband on the cell phone and tell him. "I found them! There are at least place settings for eight!"

Her day was made. Later, I saw her carrying them in a large cardboard box, holding them tight and carting them from the store with a big smile on her face. I understood. It was the same way I felt when I first saw the pink gooseberry Pyrex bowls like my mother had used for mixing, for baking, for making meatballs...

I guess sometimes kitchenware becomes more than kitchenware. It becomes symbolic of places and people, times we want to remember and recapture. It's the reminder of meals loved, and food prepared with care.

Another time of merry thrifting involved watching a group of gals of about 25 at the Red White and Blue in Bellevue. They were getting themselves a whole new wardrobe of quirky items-- trying on tops and retro dresses, funky boots and wild scarves. Laughing and chattering away, it was like they were five year olds at play with an old trunk of grandma's goodies.

Me, I was looking at CDs and DVDs and had just found some unexpected treasures in the bunch. I'd turned to the person at my shoulder, thinking it was my shopping buddy, when I realized too late it was one of the girls from this group. "Oh, I'm sorry-- I thought you were my friend. I was going to show her what I found."

"Oh," she said. "Well, you can show me!"

By the time I was checking out, so were they. And this same gal was merrily brandishing a pair of bright pink sparkly shoes-- as if Dorothy's ruby slippers had gotten a makeover. "These are crazy," she said, "but I have to have them. It's like playing dress-up. I feel like I'm a kid again."

They left the store laughing and joking. It was nice to see that kind of enthusiasm over second-hand stuff.

My last story for today happened just this week, and I'm afraid it's more of a "What The-?!" and not as jovial as the other two tales.

This Tuesday I was on my lunch break, at the Salvation Army thrift store perusing the housewares and toys when suddenly I started to smell... HEAT. Electric heat. Fried heat. Like a light socket that's gone bad... wiring that's fritzed.

This wafted to the cashier and I at about the same time and we exchanged glances. Concerned about what I'd see, I peered down the aisle. The cashier said, "I smell something on fire," hoping someone would pipe up. And the customer, a middle-aged woman sitting on a couch nearby, shrugged a shoulder. "I tried out that toaster. It didn't work. I think it shorted out."

"Where is the toaster now?" the cashier asked, becoming increasingly panicked.

"Oh, I put it back," said the woman with a casual wave of the hand. She hooked a thumb behind her. "It's over there on the shelf with the other ones."

The cashier and I just gaped. So something shorted out and caught fire... so she put it back on the shelf with the other ones??? She didn't, oh, mention it to anyone? To prevent the place from burning down? To prevent someone from bumping it and getting burnt? Or the next person to test it from getting a bad shock?

The cashier ran over to find the offending object and remove it before more problems occurred And the customer?

She just sat there, playing around with something else in her hands, completely unconcerned.

It was one of those moments where I wondered about some folks' common sense. The thrift stores are great for finding memories, and making new ones... There's a lot less chance to do that when, oh... the building burns down....

Thrift safetly, folks!

  • Before I go today, I'd wanted to let you all know about a nifty little interview I got to do with Gloria of Decorating Room-by-Room. She asked some really good questions, and I think you might get a kick out of the piece. I had an absolute blast answering them-- thanks so much, Gloria, for asking me. You can check that interview out by clicking here.
  • And one last order of business-- you might have noticed, The Thrift Shop Romantic blog is now available on Kindle readers, for folks who have a Kindle and wish to subscribe. Just click the button in the sidebar above, or click here. And even if you're not a Kindle customer, if you enjoy TSR and would care to give it a review for the Amazon folks, I'd be much obliged. (It's very weird seeing my blog on Amazon... Haven't quite gotten used to that yet.)
Okay, I think that's it for today. I hope you all have a super-duper Memorial Day weekend, that your barbeques are really cooking, and the memories are, er, memorable!

And PS- if you have a favorite thrifting or garage saling story you'd like to share with us this week, I'd love to hear it!


Karla said...

Ah I love these stories... it's the human element of thrifting. You never quite get anything quite like this at a regular store. (When I go into Macy's now, I feel as if I'm gonna have a panic attack: so. much. new. stuff.) The lack of history kinda freaks me out. Thanks for sharing!

Andrea said...

Good stories, Jenn!
I had a good time in the book section of a Goodwill in Springfield, Ohio this month. I was telling a fellow book lover about the tremendous quantity of books at the Dayton Goodwill that I had visited two times, three days earlier. Springfield and Dayton are only about 25 miles apart and she was so happy to get this information. She was going to make a special trip there as soon as possible. I felt like I had opened up a whole new world of available books for her. Who knows? She may become a regular customer to this Dayton store. I love making those connections with total strangers. Another fun aspect of thrifting.... chatting with fellow treasure hunters.

Melanie said...

I met the sweetest woman from Australia in the thrift store. I just HAD to have this set of 5 wine glasses I found. I told the woman standing beside me how tickled I was too find them. I hadn't thought to grab a basket when I came in the door. She made me stay by the shelf while she got me a basket so nobody else would get the wineglasses before I got back.

Jenn Thorson said...

Karla- Yup, at Macy's you might just have to struggle to get waited on at the perfume counter-- but there's no joy and no real "what the heck was that about?" moments.

Andrea- Oh, that's nice sharing tips for new thrifty places with your fellow shoppers. I'd learned about one of my favorite thrift stores in a similar way. I think fondly of the guy who told me about it.

Melanie- Aw, how nice was that! Terrific she did that for you like that. I bet you were astonished.

Glenda/MidSouth said...

Love the stories. The woman and the toaster - really makes you wonder about some people.
Hope you had a great weekend.

Rosemary said...

Love these stories Jenn!!
Hope you had a nice Memorial day weekend!

Anonymous said...

what a find!! you did great!!