If you enjoy a leisurely cruise through the aisles of the local Goodwill or Salvation Army store, you probably don’t want to go thrifting with me. I walk into a thrift store and immediately revert to serious “picker” mode. Years ago, as a widowed young mother of two, there were months when I literally paid the bills by “picking” and reselling on eBay. (Yes there was a day job but the paycheck didn’t stretch far enough, you know?) I can “pick” an entire thrift store in twenty minutes, less if we’re not finding anything of value, and I’m out the door.
The eBay biz was somewhat different in those days and I started selling before everyone in the world caught eBay fever, which made things easier. I quickly determined going to garage sales was a waste of my time. Far better to go to the local charity thrift stores, where rivers of donated items come together in one place. And the thrift stores, more so then, priced things in a way that enabled a picker to make a profit, whereas at a garage sale, people tended to overprice (in terms of me reselling the item).
You can tell the pickers – we’re serious, man. We flip through the items on the racks steely eyed, rarely hesitating. If an item looks promising to me I immediately scan it for the killer flaws – collar, arm pits, missing buttons, stains…you learn what stains you can and can’t get rid of, or cover over with a pretty appliqué…tears, ripped hems…does it have a label? On eBay it’s nearly impossible to sell a garment with no brand name and conversely it’s hard to sell a “gently worn” garment with too fabulous a brand name, because you can’t personally guarantee it’s not a fake. There were sizes and brands we could sell and others we couldn’t sell, no matter what we did.
And sometimes a garment was just too “tired” to resell – a useful term my daughter came up with when there were none of those fatal flaws I mentioned, but it was just too worn to bother with.
We (my older daughter became my helper) mostly dealt in clothing, with occasional collectibles, dishes, earrings, vintage toys, Hallmark ornaments. I stayed out of areas where I had no expertise and wouldn’t know a valuable item from a fake, like glassware, furniture, baskets, purses…I did study up on certain types of china that I ran across locally. Some brands were always good to buy, other times there would be only one pattern or even one piece in a certain pattern, worth snapping up. Certain sizes of bowls, for example, might be desirable. Or the sugar bowl lid…
I enjoy the thrill of the hunt, I won’t deny that. Being a picker was hard work though. I had a regular route on Saturdays, three different thrift stores, sometimes a fourth depending on the finds and my budget. A couple of others I’d check on once a month. I got to know the staff in each place, their patterns of when things went on sale, when the most new stuff came out (down to the time of day – one place liked to put new stuff on the racks and shelves at noon on Tuesdays and 2:00 PM on Thursdays). Certain shops had regular donors who provided stuff I could really do well with. One charity had someone who would regularly donate unworn, mint condition T shirts promoting the hottest new computer games either just before or right when the games became available. Buy for $1-2 and resell for $20-30. Another store got a lot of vintage 1950’s dishes…
Once I had my treasures unpacked at home there was the cleaning, the photographing (eventually we had two mannequins), the listing, the packing and shipping, dealing with unhappy customers…I was very glad when we could give the whole thing up. eBay Platinum Seller Status is a LOT of work to maintain…
We also had loyal customers on eBay, some of whom became friends over the years. Sometimes I’d do my picking with a certain customer or two in mind (“she’ll like this”)…only to have that person silently disappear forever.
Maybe once or twice a year now I still go to my favorite thrift store, just to play. I pick up a few things for myself and I “catch and release” everything else. I do NOT miss eBay selling. There are only one or two things I’d unhesitatingly grab to resell today – more on that in a moment.
This past Saturday morning for example, I bought a vintage mug for fifty cents that’s worth $30; a signed numbered print by one of my favorite artists for $30 that worth $150; and a suede skirt and vest set for $12 that goes for $100. I also picked up a bunch of fashion jewelry earrings – you know me and earrings! I overpaid for those (in terms of reselling) but they’re for me and I like them. The best earrings find I ever made? My signed $300 Chanel cultured pearl earrings that I got for 25 cents. That was years ago. Trust me, nowadays the thrift store staff would have priced those close to the real value and they’d be at the boutique store. Or listed on eBay by the thrift organization! And good for them, they raise money for very important causes!
Most heart breaking story? A $2 vase that the clerk dropped and broke as she was ringing it up. She was nonchalant about it. I knew it was worth easily $200 but what could I say? I’ll never forget the one that “got away” LOL.
At times I bought an item, positive I was going to make a killing, only to get home and do the research and discover it was a dime a dozen. Or not “the” hot color. Or a reproduction. Nowadays there are apps for resellers and pickers although I have to say it helps to know the obscure but valuable name brands on sight.
Sometimes I felt like Fate was nudging me. In the entire time I was reselling, I only saw one vintage Grateful Dead T shirt and that was the day before I was going to help my best friend with a garage sale – her husband is a HUGE Grateful Dead fan. The T shirt was $1, going for $85 on eBay but I kept it. Her husband got a kick out of me wearing it, but since it was all rainbows, tie dye and teddy bears, not his thing.
So what item is it, you ask, that I would buy in a heartbeat and go back on eBay to sell? OK, our best find EVER was a sweater I bought for $1.50 (which was half off that day)….and sold for $1500.00. Yes, folks, if you ever see a vintage Ralph Lauren P Wing sweater in excellent condition on your visit to a thrift store, snatch that garment UP. Unless I see it first!
What was your most outstanding thrift store or garage sale find? Or one that got away?