Thrifting. Resaling. Secondhand. Consignment. There are many names, and decades of treasures hiding in every city across America. Welcome to the Thrift Hunter’s Club, where this handbook will teach you everything you need to know about thrifting. I hope that even if you consider yourself a black belt in the art of thrift you will tag along on the weekly posts. This first chapter will cover the first step every thrift hunter should know, mapping out the thrift store – or as I call it, Secondhand Cartography.
The Thrift Hunter’s Handbook is a how-to guide for both the thrift-savvy and thrifters-in-training. The best way to get the most out of a shopping trip is to trade tips with your fellow bargain hunters, so I will compile them all in a convenient collection of chapters from my own Thrift Hunter’s Handbook. Hopefully I will be able to add to them if any of you would like to contribute your own tips, tricks, and closely-guarded heirloom thrift secrets.
If we are going to call this a thrift hunting handbook, then we will treat this as a safari and begin like any decent hunter would…by getting a lay of the land. You can’t just go gallivanting into any ol’ secondhand store or else you might end up on the wrong side of a polyester power suit. There is always a lot to consider when one embarks on a thrifting excursion, but we can break it down into some pretty logical factors. The premiere chapter in the Thrift Hunter’s Handbook will cover one seldom thought about – but still vital -component of shopping: The Cartography of The Thrift Store.
I. STORE LOCATION
You will most likely have more than one Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other big name thrift store. I prefer Goodwill, I know of some that even get excess merchandise from nearby stores like Target. You might also have smaller private charitable thrift stores, they might benefit local animal shelters or religious organizations. These tend to have smaller selections and do not get merchandise on a “schedule” so what you see one week will likely still be there a couple weeks later. Consignment shops and bargain “depots” are also a frequent staple in larger towns. These are an excellent source of thrifts!
Typically smaller towns still have a big name thrift store, but might have only one or two. This is an advantage however, because the merchandise will be funneled into one store and you won’t have to check multiple locations to know you’re getting the best finds. Private consignment shops will also have some unique and great finds, and typically there is at least one of these in small towns. The prices will vary greatly here, you can either snag some stuff for an amazing price or end up finding something similar at Goodwill for a better price. Getting to know the owners in this category can be very beneficial! They might be willing to haggle on prices, and give you heads up/early access to new merch.
This is a pretty straightforward factor, but important nonetheless. You will find more snow boots and nice coats in colder regions, and a bigger selection of sundresses and floppy hats in the South. Very similar to population, but handy to keep in mind if you are going to a thrift store in a different city. More modern cities have more variety in the type of thrift stores you will encounter. You will most likely see more *hip* secondhand shops that cater to a young crowd with their practically new and rare vintage items selling for a price tag that borders on criminal (just my opinion). Rural areas, particularly in the south, usually stick to the big box stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. But you will find everything under the sun in these stores, much of it will be older than the average thrift you’d find in the modern cities and generally well-worn. These areas make a great cornucopia if you are into repurposing and flipping. Price variances are also influenced by region, given that store owners base their prices on the competition. Goodwill has flat prices on clothing (with the exception of NWT items) and a pretty standard price rule they apply to other items like plates and electronics; for example mugs are almost always 50 cents or 99 cents depending on size and decoration.
College towns have a huge variety, and a bigger chance to snag newer clothes in these areas. I usually assume a change in weight (read: the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen”) might be a cause for finding brand new J. Crew or hardly worn Lululemon, and some people just give up trying to pack up all of their clothes during move out. Knowing the neighborhoods around a thrift shop could give you a clue as to what you might find inside!
II. STORE LAYOUT
Now that we have properly categorized what type of thrift stores you might encounter on your expeditions, you must know how to navigate once actually inside. I know, it’s a bit daunting to the ill-equipped, but after this chapter you will face those fluorescent-lit aisles with confidence, my friend.
Obviously, every store is different. So I will keep this portion as general as possible while still being (hopefully) somewhat informative. Anyways, when I say store layout I mean more of knowing where to go to find a certain item even if you have never stepped foot in that particular store in your life. As if you were navigating through the treacherous wilderness deep in a vague jungle somewhere – but you’re Liam Neeson and you never get lost because you have a very particular set of skills, skills you have acquired over a very long career. But if that jungle was a musky thrift store. And instead of Liam Neeson, it’s just you with an arm full of disco pants..still treacherous.
So to clarify, a typical store will consist of:
- Womens Clothing
- Men’s Clothing
- Home Decor
And any combination within that list. Most privately-owned, local secondhand and consignment will stick to either clothing and/or furniture. Some stores are specialty stores, focusing their variety in one to two categories. Keep this in mind when looking for new stores, and usually you can check online for a website or Facebook page to see what they carry so you don’t waste your time.
Upon entering a store, do a quick scan of the layout. Women’s, Men’s, and Children’s are typically adjacent to each other and each have their own “section”. Do not fall for the sections. I highly suggest you ignore the fact that they are separated and browse them without hesitation just because it is separated by age and gender. Always remember that the products are usually sorted at each employee’s discretion and personal opinion. So what might seem like a child’s dress is actually a woman’s shirt…but it can also be anything you want because hey- you’re the one paying for it!
Home decor, furniture and appliances typically hang out towards the back, and accessories and shoes are usually by the front. Coats and seasonal clothing can sometimes be in a special section depending on the store size. For example, Goodwill will rotate coats during the winter and tanks and shorts during the summer in this section.
First impressions tell a lot, and I will get into how important this is in thrift hunting in a later chapter (a whole chapter on it, actually). So why mention it now? Because when you are looking over the aisles when you first enter the store, you will notice right away which sections have more stock. Sparse hangers and empty shelves are a good indication that either:
A. The store does not get much in for this category and it is not their specialty,
B. It’s before they usually stock or unload much of the donations, or
C. It’s a dud location
If the entire store looks like a mall in the waning hours of Black Friday then you can mostly bet on C being the reason for lack of inventory. Before you count it out, make sure to check out the small items such as accessories or shelves in the back where hidden treasures are often overlooked. If you suspect A or B are the explanation then make sure to take note of that store and what day and time you go because every thrifting trip is fruitful if you at least walk away knowing more than when you walk in! Those nuggets of information are your weapons against the clutter and set you apart from the average shopper.
That pretty much covers everything a rookie thrift hunter should know about Secondhand Cartography, but it is just the beginning of The Thrift Hunter’s Handbook. I look forward to hearing about your endeavours so make sure to leave your tips for spotting the best thrift stores below. If you enjoyed this post, please like it and share it with a friend! Happy hunting, Thrifters!