Confessions of a Thrift Store Addict

I have had a lifelong love for thrift store shopping. As a teenager I became enamored with vintage clothes and the idea of wearing things that were unique, or at least unusual. And I was broke. Vintage clothing shops were lovely, but I couldn’t afford them and I quickly realized that they were there so that shoppers could pay someone else to do their thrift store searching.

PC: Lisa Lewis

PC: Lisa Lewis

As a young adult, I was a single mom and a college student. And I was broke. Dressing myself and my daughter and outfitting my apartment at regular store prices was not an option. Thrift stores were a necessity for me.

As the years went on, I cared less about fashion and I wasn’t so broke anymore. But I did care about the environment. You may already know this, but so-called “fast fashion” (read: most things you buy at the mall these days) is an environmental disaster. Donating to and purchasing from thrift stores are ways of staying out of that cycle of badness. In addition, many thrift stores support worthy charitable causes, so you can feel good about helping the environment and your community.

In addition to my more altruistic reasons for thrifting, I still love a bargain. Finding high quality, brand name clothes (sometimes of much better quality than the “fast fashion” items at the full price stores) for next to nothing is addicting. I will travel to check out a thrift store and have made day trips back and forth across the Triangle to see if the Raleigh or Mebane thrift stores are any better than Durham (they aren’t). I also check out thrift stores everywhere I go. I have two Coldwater Creek shirts in my closet that I acquired four years ago in Ketchikan, Alaska, and I am currently wearing a Banana Republic skirt from Oak Island, North Carolina. Need I say that no item was more than five dollars? And the thrift store is my first stop for single-use items, like prom dresses and Halloween costumes – purchase, wear, and donate back the next day.

PC: Lisa Lewis

PC: Lisa Lewis

The Triangle is a great place for thrift shopping. There are stores for children’s items, stores for adult items, stores for furniture and household goods, and stores for all of the above. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

Pennies for Change Thrift Boutique on Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard in Durham: This small store across 15/501 Business from Guglhupf is a gem, and knowing that the proceeds from the store support the Durham Crisis Response Center makes me want to spend my money there. Pennies for Change sells women’s clothing plus some select furniture and household items. The selection is not huge, but the quality is always good and the store is just the right size to look through everything I would consider buying within an hour or so.

Everything but Grannie’s Panties on Guess Road in Durham: “Grannie’s” is a Durham classic that always makes me feel like I have landed at a dream-come-true yard sale. Household goods, furniture, random items: they are all there, and typically at great prices. Their stock consists of a large selection of useful items, many of them with vintage charm.

Durham Rescue Mission Thrift Store on Chapel Hill Boulevard in Durham: The Durham Rescue Mission has several thrift stores in the Triangle, and I have visited all of them. Luckily for me, the one I like best is closest to me, across 15/501 from the Target plaza. This store is mammoth, yet fairly well organized. Their furniture and housewares section is really extensive, and includes many functioning small appliances like crock-pots. This is the place to go for clothes for any age or size person. Prices vary, and sometimes the person marking the item had an inflated idea of what it was worth, but there are still wonderful deals to be found. I have often found clothes here with the tags still on from the “full price” store. In addition to taking a tax deduction when you donate to most thrift stores, at this store your receipt for donation can be shown for a 10% discount if you shop that same day.

If you are seriously into thrift shopping, you probably have many more stores to add to this list. You might also have a systematic approach to your choice of stores (expensive neighborhoods usually mean nicer donations) or your process for shopping (I look at labels first). But for the novice thrift shopper, I suggest a few tips:

thrift store

PC: Lisa Lewis

  • Check in advance to find out if the stores you are going to take cards – some stores only take cash or checks.
  • Take care of your physical needs – poring through miles of racks at the local Goodwill is an endurance feat, and you will need to be fed and hydrated before you go. For the same reason, wear comfortable shoes.
  • If you are shopping for clothes, wear things that are easy to take on and off in the dressing room. Some thrift mavens advocate wearing thin and clingy clothes so that you can try items on in the aisles and skip the dressing rooms entirely.
  • Keep an open mind. Sometimes an item of clothing needs only minor alterations to be perfect, and my daughter has employed spray paint to turn many rough-looking items into cherished treasures.
  • Have a “wish list” in mind of what sort of items you hope to find, but have realistic expectations. I typically try on 8 to 10 items for every one that I purchase, and I sometimes go home empty-handed.
  • Have even more realistic expectations if you are shopping with young children – you will get less shopping done, and you will likely spend more money when they beg for random items at the store.

Happy thrifting!

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Lisa Scandale Lewis is a Durham resident, nursing instructor, and parent to adult children, almost-adult children, and two dogs.

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