Saturday, July 7, 2007

Tour of Midtown Cd'A Thift Stores

Thrifting. For some it’s an art; the thrill of the hunt, the promise of a real find. For some it’s a gift. They’re able to notice fabulous things sitting amidst the clutter of thrift store racks, things not visible to the untalented eye. For those on a budget, thrift shopping is often a necessity. For many these days, it’s a living. They arrive early and strip the place of anything that they think might have some remote value to some collector out there on eBay, from troll dolls and disco 8-tracks to actual antiques. They’ve made it harder and harder for the average shopper to score any treasures.

Old time thrifters often talk about the glory days before the internet and the emergence of overpriced clothing re-sell boutiques that snatch up the coolest thrift garb before anyone else gets a chance and then mark it up to near designer prices. That faded old Def Leppard shirt you donated to Goodwill is likely hanging from the rack of an über-trendy clothing shop with a price tag that reads something like this: “Retro - $35”. Recently, many thrift stores have gotten into the act as well, with roped-off collectible sections and high-priced “funky” racks. This is probably great for the various charities that benefit from the sale of these items, but frustrating for shoppers looking for cheap thrills.

Regardless, hardcore thrifters carry on, realizing that items still sometimes slip through the cracks, unnoticed by mark-up vultures. In a way, it makes the discovery of cool stuff even more thrilling. There’s an addictive quality to the natural rush one feels when that impossible search ends in a brilliant thrift coup. Coeur d’Alene, like many towns, has a large and voracious thrifting cult. For some, it’s a fun game of hide and seek, and for others it’s a down-and-dirty, ruthless competition.

Making the rounds from store to store on a weekly, sometimes daily basis, they recognize faces but don’t speak. They exchange glares that say “what are you doing in MY territory” and jealously eyeball the contents of each other’s carts. They know every staff member of every thrift store in town, and they shamelessly befriend them in hopes of a discount. Frankly, I think it’s fantastic and fully admire their inventive viciousness. After all, these are the folks who come away with the gold.

I’ve been thrifting in this town for eons, and there have been times when I’ve come perilously close to joining the mad cult, but normally I prefer just casually looking around to see what random items turn up. I’ve come to know the local thrift stores and all their quirks. Seasoned thrifters know that each store has its own personality with high points and low points.

We are fortunate to have a killer thrift mecca located right here in Midtown Coeur d’Alene, with no less than six stores perfectly arranged all on the same small stretch of land. I recruited my friend M. to provide a needed female perspective, and we headed north on 4th street for a sunny day of bargain hunting mania.

The Idaho Youth Ranch Thrift Store (811 N 4th) is known for its large Rock-n-Roll mural and it’s suck-you-in first aisle full of knick-knacks and foofaraw. Sad clown statuettes mingle with faberge eggs and aquarium décor in an attractively random, anything-smaller-than-a-breadbox kind of way. There’s also the never-changing tragedy of the “new merchandise” section. I’ve had my eye on a “new” kitschy Asian lamp here for years, but the un-thrifty high price never drops. This place is good if you’re looking for appliances and furniture which always appear to be clean and still-functioning, and with such low prices, items don’t stick around for long. Youth Ranch tends to be rough when it comes to men’s clothing, scant racks of faded flannels and ‘80’s Kmart sweaters, as if the donations just dropped off about twelve years ago. M. describes the women’s clothing section as having a “seriously spooky vibe, like someone in back is watching me shop on closed-circuit TV.” She did score a few recent Dean Koontz novels in the pretty okay book department, but I was disappointed that the once overflowing record shelf had shrunk down to a few mildewy stacks of reject vinyl.

Located across the street, the Women’s Center Thrift Store (848 N. 4th St.) is astonishingly well-organized. Crocheted potholders go in the crocheted potholder bin and fringed denim vests go on the fringed denim vest rack. Clothing is arranged in rainbow order, and the wee book department is broken into a dozen labeled categories. The kitchen section is arranged museum-like with delicate oddities that rattle ominously when you walk through. Despite the neatness, I don’t think I’ve ever found anything substantial here. I’ve trawled through the men’s section many times, but it always seems like somehow everything has shrunk in size. Even the 2x items here look like Ls, way too small for this big thrifter. “Drag Queen heaven” is how M. describes the ladies department. “Who else wears a size 22 neon purple sequined gown?”

We head around the corner to the barn-like Humane Society Thrift Shop (916 N 3rd St). I’m an animal lover so I always want to spend some bucks here, but I only occasionally have much luck. Once, a rare Devo CD box-set sat on the front counter with a $4 price tag, causing me to have a thrift meltdown right in front of the poor old woman volunteering behind the counter, who I can tell thinks I’m a psycho to this day. Recently, they’ve slapped some paint around and rearranged a bit, making for an artificially fresh experience. Neither M. or I bother with the clothes, knowing from past experiences that their racks represent the lowest-of-the-low 1997 High School Car Wash t-shirts and wide-waisted polyester pants. I did manage to find a set of retro-cool wall hangings from the ‘40’s featuring garish color photographs of landmarks like Snoqualmie Falls and the Grand Tetons. A dollar each: score!

M. swears by Goodwill (1212 N 4th St.), but the trick is getting there exactly when they’re putting out the carts of new stuff. This place is usually crowded with screaming kiddos and the fluorescent lights always make me want to start photosynthesizing, but the 80’s music is always good here, allowing me to tune out the chaos and enjoy my shopping experience. I have found some good clothing items here – in fact, out of all the stores on this list, they seem to have the healthiest selection of men’s apparel. Barely used dress shirts that are still semi in style and lots of name brands. M. says she has acquired an entire season’s worth of new outfits in a single afternoon in the overflowing Goodwill women’s section. Men never try stuff on in thrift stores. They just buy it and if it doesn’t fit, oh well, it was only a couple bucks. However, I did wait patiently for M. to try on a pile of shorts and tops, and in the end she emerged victorious, buying four pairs. I chanced upon a like-new pair of black Sketchers shoes while I waited for M. to try stuff on, and I decided they were well worth the six bucks. And they even fit when I tried them on later at home.

Obviously, St. Vincent De Paul (108 E Walnut St.) is named after the patron saint of thrifting. If they gave annual awards for best Midtown CDA thrift store, St. Vinnie’s would take home the trophy year after year. The store has countless rooms full of ever-changing thrift goodness, and the place just goes on and on forever, until you reach the backyard area, which is also overflowing with miscellany. I always find something here, and have learned that it’s physically impossible to just run in and out really quick. Better give yourself at least an hour. It takes me at least that long just to look through the shelves and shelves of books and records. M. says the main women’s section is mostly useless dreck. “I was attacked by gem sweaters, I nearly lost an eye,” she says. I’m not always lucky with the clothing section either, but I might buy a shirt I don’t even really like just because it’s half-off day and the darned thing is only 75 cents. I never have enough patience for the famous discount clothing bins but M. loves digging around in there. She is the type with a real gift for thrift and isn’t afraid to get dirty, always pulling the most amazing cool stuff out from those dank depths. They have a great wall art section; my house is decorated mostly with items from here, including one of my all-time great finds, an original Picasso linocut print which I’ve yet to have appraised, but have seen similar items on eBay for upward of $1000. You truly never know what the Saint will have in store for you.

The last stop on our agenda is the Hospice Thrift Shop ( 1823 N. 4th). M and I decided we’re a little scared of this place because the ladies who run the show here are notoriously cranky. Once I spent an hour here shopping, loading my cart with stuff. When I went to pay I was told that they don’t accept debit cards. It was like they’d never heard of the concept. Bewildered, I asked the clerk if I she would hold my items so I could run to the ATM and get cash and she told me no, and made me put everything back, which I did because her demeanor made me feel guilty for even causing the whole scenario. Sheesh. As far as merchandise, the crap-to-gold ratio is high, making this another place where you just want to skip the clothing department, and the book department, and the dish department, and every other department. They have some great overpriced, outdated technology – I don’t think these ladies realize how obsolete that Betamax is, as evidenced by the $40 price tag. The Hospice Thrift store is the kind of place where you might want to take granny when she’s got a jones for some crochet supplies. Maybe M. and I were just experiencing thrift burnout, but we both decided this old place needed a facelift.

5 comments:

Patrick said...

Patrick said...

I got this wonderful email bright and early this morn in response to this column. For posterity's sake I'm saving it here in comments, along with my response.

"I was thoroughly disgusted with the way you ripped the thrift stores in your Saturday's column. Just what do you expect to find in a thrift store? I absolutely hated the way you insulted some of the volunteers that give their time for charity.

I have read some of your work before and it is absolutely as disagreeable as your fat face. Now get something good going, and soon.

Dorris Everson (bigdee13@verizon.net)"

My response:

"Dear Dorris,

My articles are meant to be humorous and taken with a grain of salt, and it's unfortunate that you took today's piece so seriously. I have spent a fortune in all of the thrift stores I mentioned in the article, so I feel like I have contributed plenty to the various charities. Sorry that everything can't always be sunshine and roses, but I call it like I see it. Actually, despite the sarcastic tome of my article, I do fully enjoy all the thrift stores in town: every day bring different things to see, and that's part of the magic, eh?

I really don't feel like I insulted anyone who didn't deserve it. Not everyone is in a position to expose bad customer service, but unfortunately for the likes of you, I am. If I am treated rudely by a cashier, as was the case at the Hospice thrift store (which I suspect you must be a part of), then I enjoy making it come back to bite them. But I try to do so in an entertaining way, at least.

I love getting pissy letters from uptight people like you. They let me know that I'm doing something right. You truly need to loosen up: I suggest that you up your daily dosage of Metamucil. Meanwhile, I'm going to take my fat face and go do some more thrifting: hope to see you there!

Sincerely,
Patrick."
3:28 PM


Anonymous said...

How 90s.
11:29 AM


Anonymous said...

P. I have always hated your fat face and politics...ha ha just kidding about the face part but not the politics but you are a helluva writer and loved the thrift store story, right on the money. You didn't mention the Humane society store which usu. smells like dog pee but has some great buys. keep it up!
11:13 AM


swivek said...

I used to get so much from those thrift stores and definitely Goodwill was always great for clothes and The Saint Vinnie was great for old records and the like. I can't believe people get so pissy about this, and I also didn't realize you were so vocal about your politics that someone had to mention it.. I think it's downright hilarious in order to make their statement they felt the need to try and insult the way you look - personally your face is faboo and I often think of it right before falling asleep... and those old bags at the Hospice have always been rude.. and you will notice that the woman never once says she isn't a bitch, she just says she's never been called cranky... to her FACE! is the part she forgot to mention...
11:39 AM

macmckinstry said...

dear patrick- i can't seem to sign onto my account- let's try again. loved your thrifting article. i've found the smaller, volunteer run stores are usually a disappointment-not enough turnover, too high prices and not enough donations. some of them are downright depressing. i like the big national chains where you don't notice the staff-it's all about the hunt!

macmckinstry said...

dear patrick- i love the big national stores like salvation army and goodwill. i'm not interested in the staff or making a career out of thrifting-it's supposed to be fun! macmckinstry

macmckinstry said...

dear patrick- i love the big national stores like salvation army and goodwill. i'm not interested in the staff or making a career out of thrifting-it's supposed to be fun!

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