I love thrift stores. The price is mostly right, the quality is surprisingly good, and my money usually goes to good causes. I began to shop thrift stores at a time when my finances were not so good and now, though my finances are better, I continue to do so.
In thrift stores, I find good bargains and, sometimes, wonderful surprises. Fortunately, I live in a community where thrift stores are plentiful and convenient.
The first thrift stores were established in England, where they are called charity shops. A type of social enterprise, thrift stores justify their existence by donating their profits to accepted charities. They keep their overhead down by selling used goods and employing (largely) volunteer staff. Shopping at thrift stores is so popular in America that the term thrifting was coined to label this activity.
Environmentalists like thrift store goods because they use fewer natural resources and thus do less damage to the environment.
Most of the clothing found at thrift stores were donated by the families of recently deceased persons who have not dedicated followers of fashion but who usually knew what looked good on them (and others). According to the South Australia Public Health Directorate the health risk of buying used clothes at thrift stores is quite low, which is reassuring to those of us who worry about contracting infectious diseases.
In the U.S., chains of thrift stores are operated by national charities like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, American Thrift, Chabad, Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul.
A small number of thrift stores are independent enterprises like Poverello or Fort Lauderdale’s funky Oddballs Nifty Thrift. They all exist to provide a community service.
According to José Vazquez, manager of the Wilton Manors Out of the Closet store, “When you shop at any Out of the Closet, you’re directly helping people living with HIV and AIDS. Ninety-six cents of every dollar collected goes directly to fund AHF’s HIV/AIDS programs and the new housing services as well as on-site pharmacies and free HIV testing.”
An Out of the Closet store “is where our various clients and customers get their medication, shop, donate, and get tested all in one place. They would be lost without us.”
Though there are many thrift stores to choose for, they are not equal. Some stores specialize in furniture, like St. Vincent de Paul stores and the stores operated by Faith Farm Ministries.
Other stores, like American Thrift, Goodwill, or the various consignment shops, specializing in clothing, fine or otherwise.
Book collectors like me are usually on the lookout for good bargains or occasional treasures like those often found in stores run by Poverello or Chabad. Other stores (not the ones where I shop) specialize in antiques, artwork, or bric-á-brac.
The stores’ décor also run the gamut from dumpy warehouses to elegant shops like consignment shops or Out of the Closet stores. The causes they serve are also diverse and might decide your willingness to shop there: Goodwill helps individuals, especially those with disabilities, train for and find jobs; Poverello and AHF help people living with AIDS; American Thrift stores assist local charities, and the Salvation Army helps the Salvation Army. Those who hesitate to shop at Salvation Army thrift stores should know that it has repudiated its old anti-LGBT views. According to its website (www.salvationarmyusa.org) the Army “embrace people regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Our hiring practices are open to all, and we provide the same benefits to opposite-sex and same-sex couples. The Salvation Army is committed to serving the LGBTQ community.” This about-face makes it easier for me to shop Salvation Army stores, though it annoys me that they continue to display their clothes by color, rather than size.
In addition to their contributions to charity, thrift stores are a major part of our economy, especially during these uncertain times. I buy most of my clothes at thrift stores, with the notable exception of underwear, socks, and shoes. The clothes are just as good and are much cheaper than those sold by trendy shops like Old Navy.
As Macklemore rapped in “Thrift Shop” why pay $50 for a t-shirt when you can get one much cheaper at Goodwill or Salvation Army? Why indeed. Visit your local thrift store and be surprised.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.