Thrift Store Shopping for Antiques, Collectibles and Bargains

While some people believe themselves above shopping in a thrift store, I have found that you can find great antiques and collectibles for great prices.

Oh, how I love the thrill of the hunt in a thrift store. It is almost as good as a big church rummage sale. My multiple decades of thrift-store shipping have garnered such items as a Coach handbag for 50¢, a beautiful Lladró figurine $5, antique drop-front and roll-top desks for less than $100 each and a wide variety of items that sell quickly and bring a nice profit. Not everything I purchase ends up for sale, as I do hang on to quite a few thrift store purchases. Even hubby has been bitten by the thrift store bug, as he finds name-brand clothing for himself that is new with tags or barely worn.

Thrift stores have been given a pretty bad rap:

• Some people feel that thrift store shopping is “beneath” them;
• Thrift stores are dirty;
• They sell nothing but cheap, broken junk;
• Stores are disorganized and good items are impossible to find.

While some thrift stores do meet some or all of the above criteria, it is certainly not apply all of them; I cannot speak for those who feel they are too “good” to enter the doors of a thrift store. Many thrift stores are nice and clean with no funky aroma, clothing has been laundered, inventory is clean, electronic and mechanical items have been tested and any chipped or repaired items are noted as such. As you begin thrifting in your area, you will learn which thrift stores meet your specific criteria and which don’t. I personally have no criteria when it comes to thrift stores: I just put on my big girl panties and make my way through the doors; I have found wonderful items in stores that few people would have the gumption to enter.

Generally, there are two types of thrift store: non-profit (religious organizations, charities) and for profit (owned by individuals to turn a profit). My experience has been that the charity stores have a higher turn-over in inventory and, with a couple of exceptions, their inventory is of a higher quality and the prices are lower. For-profit thrift stores (once again, this is my personal observation), tend to have higher prices, lower quality goods and inventory so old that the price tags themselves are probably worth more on the collectible market than the item they are on.

Blackwell’s Thrift Shop in Kansas City, Mo., offers great finds in a nice, clean and appealing store, despite its location in a run-down part of town.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. One of my all-time favorite thrift stores is an amazing family owned shop in Kansas City, Mo., called “Blackwell’s.” While in one of the worst parts of town, it is as neat as a pin, very organized and the prices cannot be beat. Over the past 27 years, I have furnished more than one kitchen and dining room for my daughters as well as secured many wedding gifts with items purchased from Mrs. Blackwell. She has a big oak barrel in the back filled to overflowing with lids. You name it and she probably has a lid for it.

I especially like hitting thrift stores when I travel. If you are going out of state, you stand the chance of finding nice, inexpensive regional items. On a recent trip to Colorado I went to the Nazarene Thrift Store in Monte Vista. Besides the words “Thrift Store,” what caught my eye was an amazing window display of colorful ski boots and skis. Since I was not really in to breaking my neck on the trip, I was not in the market to purchase such items. But I was extremely interested to see what they priced in a thrift store. I know that ski items can be extremely expensive when purchased new, but the thrift store had them priced at significantly less than half of retail (I had my laptop in the car to look-up retail prices). They even had a pair of vintage Ski Pees for $29.99, these resale for around $125.

This particular part of Colorado supported several turquoise mines through the 1970s and I am always in the market for turquoise and silver jewelry, yet the retail store prices were beyond ridiculous. All of the thrift stores I visited had a nice inventory of turquoise and silver pieces, although, sadly, nothing really caught my eye. Still, the prices were amazingly low.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: When you travel, be sure to seek out a thrift store for great regional purchases, inexpensive souvenir items or items you need just for the trip. On a recent road trip I needed a humidifier and headed to the thrift store to make the purchase. The cost was $5. On my way out of town, I re-donated the humidifier and received a store credit for the purchase amount and used it to purchase some books. Two of them were Christmas gifts.

One of the things to keep in mind when you shop at a non-profit thrift store is that the money you spend is going to a good cause. I

One of the things to keep in mind when you shop at a non-profit thrift store is that the money you spend is going to a good cause. I visited with Deborah at the Nazarene Thrift Store and she told me that they opened the shop four years ago. The money the store brings in goes to services the church provides to the local community, local charities, food banks and worldwide missions. To date in 2011, they have given away $85,000 in goods and services. We were in the back storage area of the shop while we visited and straight away I noticed how neat and clean even the back of the store was. Deborah pointed to two large, overhead storage areas piled high with large trash bags brimming with an assortment of items. She indicated that the store worked with another local business who sent the items to impoverished and developing countries. It makes you feel pretty good about shopping when you know that your money is going to help others.

You do have to practice a certain amount of restraint when thrifting, as it is very easy to buy items you will never use or sell just because the price is low. It is also helpful if you know the retail prices on new items. There is a large chain of non-profit thrift stores intended to “save” you money and on a recent visit I noticed a very worn Old Navy T-shirt priced at $12. If purchased new, this very shirt is only $5. This particular store is no longer on my list of shops to visit due to their overall high prices. Be sure to check your purchases over really well for tears, chips, cracks and other defects as most stores have a no refund policy. You can try to haggle on prices but those days are pretty much gone. If the item you want to purchase has a defect of some sort it doesn’t hurt to ask if they can give you a discount.

Get on out and visit your local thrift stores you might be very surprised (good or bad) at what you will find.

Michelle Staley, who insists that collectors are the happiest people, is an antique collector and dealer. Her shop, My Granny’s Attic Antiques, Collectibles and Memorabilia, is in Lenexa, Kansas.

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  1. Isabelle says:

    My ideal heaven would be streets lined with thrift stores.

  2. Thrift stores definitely give you the thrill of the hunt, especially when they’re in that not so nice part of town.

  3. Love the article. I have been a avid thrift store shopper for as long as I can remember and have found some amazing deals as well. I hunt down thrift stores wherever my travels take me. In-fact, I have my children jumping on the band wagon and they have now come to the realization that they can acquire far more as they would put it “cool clothes” for far less. Before they would buy one cool shirt at a retail store, now they purchase a multitude of items at a thrift store for the same price as the one had cost them retail.

    Thanks again for the wonderful article.