You probably already know if you’re a thrift store-inclined person or not. I never particularly thought I was until a few years ago. There’s a Goodwill across from my gym and I found myself stopping by weekly. This started about five years ago.
I soon learned two things — thrift stores (especially certain ones) are gold mines of second-hand finds but you have to go regularly to find the good stuff. Pop in once or twice a year and you’ll wonder what the big deal is.
Aside from increasing your odds of landing a good find, going regularly also gives you a sense of how common or uncommon certain items are. It gleans your pounce-or-pass instinct over time.
If you’re a Miss Pixie’s (1626 14th St., N.W.) shopper — and she’s great for certain things — obviously you’re gonna pay a lot more because you’re paying for her highly curated inventory and her no doubt exorbitant rent. I’ve splurged and bought some major pieces there in the last few years because, although they were fairly pricey (like $600 for an industrial metal apothecary-type cabinet), years of flea market and thrift store shopping (and antique shopping in general) gave me a strong sense of how unlikely it would be to find comparable items elsewhere.
Goodwills, though, are like Pixie’s minus the kitsch/cool factor and there’s a whole lot more crap to sift through. But that’s also part of the fun. I don’t consider it a fail whatsoever if I leave my weekly Goodwill visit empty handed. I know the goodies will be there soon enough.
You also have to train yourself to be judicious — your home, especially if you live in a small space, can get overrun with junk you don’t need if you’re not careful. But that’s also the beauty of Goodwill — you don’t want it, you just take it back. Sometimes with books, VHS tapes (yeah, I still watch them on occasion — you’d be surprised how much good stuff never made it over to DVD or Netflix) and LPs, I sometimes think of Goodwill more as a library where you just return whenever. No due date or late fees!
Home decor wise, I’ve had the best luck with funky, off-the-beaten path items that you just luck into. Last weekend I got a 5 ft.-tall, four-tiered circular shelf with a storage area in its base for all of $6. Luckily it slid easily into my car when I put the front passenger seat down. It’s great for plants, tchotchkes (I’m a whore for kitschy tchotchkes) or whatever. I was tired of cologne bottles clogging up my bathroom sink and window sill so now they’re there.
Goodwill Industries, which has its headquarters in Rockville, Md., and bills itself as an LGBT-affirming employer, is also great for household items you don’t realize you don’t have until you go for them and they’re not there — like ramekins or margarita glasses. Yeah, you could get the same stuff at the outlets or make do with bowls or tumblers you already own, but that’s no fun. I’m fussy about stemwear but at the same time I don’t want to spend a lot.
You’ll also quickly discover that all Goodwill stores are not created equally. Some are much cleaner and better organized than others. If you don’t mind driving a little or you happen to be out in the exurbs, the two biggest, brightest and cleanest ones I know of are in Frederick, Md. and Charles Town, W.Va. The gargantuan Frederick, Md., location (5831 Buckeystown Pike, Frederick) has several rooms and is almost as big as a Target. If you go, definitely make time to visit the nearby Old Glory Antique Market (5862 Urbana Pike, Frederick), just feet away and one of the best antique malls I know of in our area.
The Charles Town Goodwill is at 136 Patrick Henry Way in Charles Town, W.Va., and is newly expanded. Probably not worth a drive just for it, but make time for it if you’re out that way for something else. Smaller but still decent are ones in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and Winchester, Va. Hagerstown’s is nothing to write home about. I rarely have much luck there or at the one off Rt. 1 just past Old Town in Alexandria, Va.
What are the other great thrift stores in the region? E-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll include them in a future column.