I grew up in a small town with a spectacular thrift store. It was run by the local Hospital Ladies Auxiliary, and I vaguely remember lining up with a crowd of shoppers in the entrance-way of the pharmacy in anticipation of their weekly opening. A little old lady would open the door, hug the wall, and we’d race down the stairs to the thrift shop in the basement.
T-shirts went for 25 cents. Pants for a dollar. My hometown was rife with hippies-turned-yuppies and there were wonderful clothes on those shelves: threadbare shirts with fun slogans from all across North America, polyester and velour pants. My three favourite shirts had a logo from the Slack Alice, the words “World’s Greatest Dad,” and an ice cream cone with the slogan “Lick it. You’ll like it.” (I’ve always been a shit-disturber.)
Once I left home for the University of Victoria, my love affair with thrift stores ended. I browsed Value Village but couldn’t handle the prices. Twenty dollars for a used shirt? Seriously? So I wore my high school thrift shop finds until they wore out, then stuck to the malls.
But this Christmas I had a reawakening.
We had an End of the Year party with friends. Our host and hostess have an actual style to their home decor, as opposed to the cluttered functionality of Brock and my possessions. Sheila gave us a tour of their living room and told us the stories of their knickknacks. The vintage bar cart that they longed for, and finally found at an antiques place in Chemainus. The 1960s cocktail glasses for which Sheila hunted, for months, until she found the right ones to match her husband’s Madmen aesthetic.
We were awed by the treasures Sheila had collected: by the stories of how and where and why Sheila had rescued them. We wanted in.
So earlier this week Sheila took me and our friend Angie thrifting. We started with an antique store, to help us get an eye for the different eras and what was considered a “find.” We saw a lot of kitchenware that looked like corn cobs. Apparently ducks are a cultural meme.
Then Sheila let us loose on some thrift stores, and we practiced seeing diamonds in the rough.
I didn’t bother with t-shirts this time, but did score some plant pots — a very functional investment for our farm. Sheila lured me into seeing the beauty of a vase. (Which I bought because it will serve our farm stand well, should we decide to sell cut flowers. Practicality is a hard habit to break.)
Angie scored a beautiful old dish set that, according to Google, looks like it could be worth ten times its thrift store price.
And Sheila found a story in two gold-teardrop lamps, their beauty masked by mismatched lamp shades. She will undoubtedly restore these finds to their original beauty, or paint them and make them even better.
In this age of consumerism and throw-away materialism, there is something satisfying about rubbing the dust off something in a pile and finding gold.
I overheard two men in the Chemainus thrift store talking about things they’d donated to the store while browsing. Thrift stores create a cycle — instead of objects having a beginning and an end (usually in a landfill), they are reborn into new homes again and again. Having furniture and dishes and lamps and t-shirts with a story behind them make them more than just possessions. They become something to write about.