When I was a little girl, my mom use to take me to the Purple Heart Store. Yep, the same has those 18-wheeler trailers you see in parking lots collecting your unwanted items. The store was off 19th Street in the Heights. I believe it is an antique store with a little bakery/coffee shop inside now. This place existed and it was magical! So many used items and such great prices. As a little girl I loved the used party dresses and the section that contained every known pattern of polyester out there. (Oh terrible 1960’s pants suits, how I love thee.)
In high school, if there was one place I loved to go and shop, beyond anywhere else, it would have been Value Village. The store on Gessner was the closest and the one I went to the most. For a real treat I would venture to the far away, but much larger one on Bellaire. Value Village back in the late 90’s was the best place to spend a Saturday afternoon. Some of my finds there included original He-Man and Star Wars T shirts, some of the best fitting jeans I have ever had, retro high school polos with amazing rainbow detail, the ugliest men’s polyester plaid pants and Lord only knows what else I spent my $20 budget on. I loved Value Village. And then…something happened.
I don’t know if it was because of the economy or because of a fad, but my beloved thrift stores of Houston took a turn for the worse. To begin, the selection at Value Village wasn’t there anymore. People always have stuff to throw out, so where was all the stuff going? Well, for the fashion aspect, places like Buffalo Exchange popped up. And yeah, having one was nice, I sold some stuff there to make some money and it’s still cheaper than department stores. But then, the idea of cash for fashion starting multiplying and now these places are everywhere. For furniture, there’s only one thing I can think of…damn Craigslist. Use to, you could drop off a whole bedroom set behind a resale shop, passing it on to the next person for a cheap price. Nowadays, everyone figures they need to make a buck, so they sell all sorts of junk on Craigslist, most the crap isn’t even worth being on there. Then there is the risk of a crazy person and falsification of items. It’s a tease and a nightmare. In more recent years, GoodWill has grown in Houston. When did this happen you are probably asking? Hell if I know, but think about it, how many donation locations do you see in shopping centers these days that didn’t exist 5 years ago. And the GoodWill Select Stores, if there is anything select about them at all, they are everywhere, some of them massive.
Well for those feeling lost and confused by current condition of Houston thrift stores, I have made a tips page here. Seeing how I have been second hand shopping since I was in elementary school, I fell I have some knowledge on the subject.
1. Be open-minded to different stores.
In Houston there is Value Village, Family Thrift Center, GoodWill, Salvation Army, Katy Christin Ministries, and Northwest Assistant Ministries just to name a few. Some are definitely a little more ghetto than others (ah-hem, Family Thrift Center and Value Village.) Step outside of your box, name-brand isn’t always the way to go.
2. Thrift Stores are time consuming and Houston is big.
Let’s face it, Houston is a large city that is very spread out. There are a ton of thrift stores that put out different stuff everyday. My suggestion, have a plan. This might sound crazy, but Google Maps your thrift stores, find some that are within a 5-10 mile radius and get to know them. Once you know the inside of your store and the best way to get to and from them, you can knock out 2-4 of these babies on a weekend afternoon.
3. Carry cash.
Even in this modern world some thrift stores in Houston still do not have a credit card machines or I have just pissed them off. Carry cash for your purchases so you do not have to risk that ATM run that could cost you your piece(s).
4. When you see it, get it.
Never ever think that you can come back and the item will still be there. If you see something and it ignites a spark, get whatever it is. If you get home and second guess it, donate it back, I’m sure it didn’t cost that much to begin with. If so, save it for a garage sale in the future.
5. Shop when well caffeinated and fed.
Most thrift stores tend to be in less-desirable communities. The majority of people in these communities can not drive much less park. By ensuring you have all required nutrients, you will be less irritable on the thrift store commute. A side note here: in less desirable communities, always shop with a buddy, someone who has a truck for that credenza you just might find!
6. Always have your eyes open, it might not be what you were looking for after all.
I can not tell you how many times I’ve gone on a thrift store run looking for one thing and coming home with something I would have not expected to find. I have learned to look for patterns, shapes and small details vs the object as a whole.
7. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
Think the price is too high? Ask to get it slightly lower. Is it missing a price? Ask for a reasonable one. Is the item broken or missing something, that deserves a discount too. People in thrift stores do not work off commission and more than likely, they are not worried about last years sales figures. They have more crap to put out on the floor and they only way to get it there is to get rid of the stuff taking up the available space.