Some people are of the notion that thrift stores are veritable curiosity shops. The term can conjure this false image of shelves piled high with unwashed, grimy, smudged wares that were exhumed from some estate sale, or a hoarder’s dirty living room floor. The truth of the matter, however, is that most thrift stores are very choosey about what they will and will not accept from donors.
Still other stores take amassing quality goods to a whole new level. Some of these stores highlight the fine art of thrifting with carefully manicured displays, unique and one-of-a-kind finds you can’t make at just any mall, and a signature urban lilt. In order to get the lowdown on how to find wares of the highest quality, we visited with some of the most acclaimed second-hand and vintage shops in the South Sound area.
George White, spokesperson for Goodwill of the Olympics and Mount Rainier region, says that one of the best ways to make major finds is to go after major donation days. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday are the days of the week that donations are most likely to come pouring in. The change of the seasons also proves bountiful for major chain stores like Goodwill, Value Village, and Savers. The fall and winter seasons, according to Goodwill, are the time of year when most people trade in their best furniture to make room for the new and improved models.
Nick and Brooke Casanova, who own Urban XChange of Tacoma, are experts at amassing treasures in second-hand stores. Their shop takes the atmosphere of their store as seriously as it takes the caliber of their goods, and the duo offers up live music and hosts local bands for their guests on select evenings. Urban XChange even ushers in a local bartender on special occasions to mix cocktails for a literal happy hour of bargains. They told South Sound Talk that the trick to finding a great deal is often in having a plan before you ever even walk through the door. “When we hit the thrift stores,” says Nick, “we usually have a general idea of what we’re hoping to find, whether that be vintage items or name brand finds. It’s good to know labels and be able to recognize the qualities in a garment or item that make it a real Find.”
Another husband and wife team, JD and Drew Elquist of The Elquists, agree that knowing what you’re looking for before you go is a big part of the hunt. Luck, they add, is another huge factor. JD and Drew clearly know about finding what they’re looking for; their shop and online presence look more like the collection of a trendy Bellevue storefront than a thrift store. JD tells us that the end of spring, summer, fall and winter seasons bring great sales and savings for their customers. They added that they use Instagram and Etsy to showcase their favorite new finds year-round.
Speaking of Instagram, thrifting is becoming more and more mobile. We spoke to Nic Butera and Kelli Kannisto, better known by their Etsy storefront as The Highway Thrifters. These two South Sound scavengers hunt indiscriminately across Washington for great deals, and offer their wares up via Instagram photos and Etsy listings. “We get that some people don’t want to search through bins and bins of stuff…we will do that for you, and you can leisurely stroll through our store while you’re in the comfort of your own home.” This pairs says that they find the best deals when they travel together and split up in thrift stores to find awesome goods faster. They say that their eyes are always open, and that that is the key to finding awesome, one-of-a-kind stuff: never stop looking! “You always find the best stuff,” adds Nic, “when you least expect it.”
The Highway Thrifters aren’t alone in taking thrifting to the interwebs. All of the stores we spoke to offer items online through their Etsy storefronts. At Goodwill, shoppers can visit an online auction site to search nationwide for second-hand treasures. Goodwill’s George White tells us that sifting through a thrift store’s wares online is a great way to get to know a shop and its personality, learn about any sales, and discover more about how each shop gives back.
One of the ways that thrift stores give back to the community is by connecting people with other local small businesses. The second-hand boutique Urban XChange, for example, sells jewelry by designer Miki Drake of SVNLIGHTS, as well as other local artisans like Earthnerd, alongside vintage clothing and accessories. Another important way that thrift stores give back is through donations to charitable works. Shops like Goodwill and Value Village return a percentage of their proceeds to job placement services and other worthwhile causes. Whether by consigning with local artists and craftspersons, or by sharing proceeds with worthwhile causes, thrifting is the kind of spending that you can feel good about.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and explore how to make the most of bargain hunting and thrifting. Unlike spending at commercial retail shops, the purchases you make at your local thrift shop or vintage resale boutique will do a world of good. And who knows, it might just turn you on to your new favorite place to shop.
This article originally appeared in the South Sound Talk on October 23, 2014, and can be viewed here.