Thrift stores. They’re in almost every town across the country. Many are there to fund the charitable works of local or national organizations that help people. Some are there to turn a profit. In any case these gems are filled with forgotten items that still function. They just need to be noticed on the shelf, purchased, and cleaned up, or just put straight back into use. Let’s take a deep dive into my history of thrift store scores.
When I was a kid in the 70’s my mom would tote us along to various thrift shops. She would let us rampage around the toy section while she perused the clothing racks. I had no clue to the treasures that surrounded me until the late 1980’s when I met two guys that I had started working with. Jim and Jon Tekrony were twin brothers that were 12 years older than me. They had a penchant for good beer and being more bohemian than the old stiffs we worked with at the Bay Meadows Horse Racing Track. Many of the people that worked there at the track had been doing it way too long or were gambling addicts. Jim and Jon were different than the rest of the people there. They had a knack for pointing out the subtle differences in characters that brought the sometimes boring job to levels of comedic genius that would get us all laughing. On a regular weekday I followed them over to a thrift store in the San Mateo area and we dug around for a while. I found a sweet motorized color wheel that would have been used behind a Christmas tree to light up the wall. I’ve forgotten the price but that cheap purchase right there set the hook. I was now looking for another score.
Fast forward to the 1990’s and San Jose, California. I was living in downtown San Jose with two friends after a two year sojourn in Southern California. The area had several thrift stores which were loaded with treasures. As was the case back then I was always short on cash. I was saw a Delorean in great condition parked in the back of thrift store just south of downtown. I think the price was $2,000. Great deal looking back. At that store I bought a Raleigh Superbe 3-speed bicycle with a genuine Brooks saddle for $45. I kept that bike for over 20 years and recently sold it on Craigslist. Further south in San Jose was a store that was filled with straight up junk. Mostly throw away stuff, lots of kids clothes, tons of sketchy furniture. But one day, a fateful day I won’t forget, I sauntered out of my truck and headed towards the store and something caught my eye. Near the entrance was a big long bike rack. As with many thrift stores it was filled with Magnas, Team Murrays, destroyed kids bikes, and an occasional Schwinn Varsity. I spotted a chromed seat stay, oh what’s that? My keen eye followed the chainstay down to the rear derailleur hanger. There was a real hanger there, not one of those ubiquitous bolt on hangers which is a sign of cheapness, no this was a legitimate dropout. To get a better look I heaved the wretched department store junk on either side away from the bike. I’m thinking to myself, what is this bike? It has tubular wheels, a leather saddle, and nice lugs. It was a Peugeot PX-10 from 1968. All original condition. I stood there for a moment and wondered if I was dreaming. Then it hit me. The euphoric rush of the thrift store score. The blast of dopamine hits you hard, just like that time you kissed your wife for the first time. Feeling slightly stunned I checked the price and nearly fell over. $10.00. Then, as if the bike gods were guiding my life, I glanced up at the front doors of the store. In a big blazing splash of color it was written “ALL BIKES 60% OFF.” Feeling like I just found money laying in the street I quickly walked in and got the nearest clerk’s attention. He came out and unlocked the bike and I paid for it and left. I kept that receipt for years on my refrigerator, $4 and change, as a reminder to never stop looking for that next deal. I kept that bike until 2011. It was time to set it free. I had only ridden it a handful of times and it needed to go to new home. I sold it to a collector in Arizona that specialized in restoring PX-10’s. That was by far the biggest buzz I ever got from a thrift store score. Unfortunately I cannot locate a good photo of the bike, just a bad image with my finger in the way!
As years past by I found other deals, such as a Schwinn unicycle for $20 in Fremont, CA. and a large antique steamer trunk. Sometimes I would buy collectibles to resell on eBay. Other things I would buy just because they were cool things to have decorating the house. Currently I am searching for , and finding, handmade ceramic mugs and bowls. These crafted items have so much more character than their mass-produced counterparts. Plus each one is unique and can’t be reproduced exactly. Several bowls and mugs have been acquired and I’m definitely going to keep searching for more.
My kids are older and they’ve matured past the perceived stigma that thrift store shopping is only for poor people. Now they love the hunt for clothes that fit their unique American teenager fashion sense. My older daughter likes finding t-shirts that play to her style while my younger daughter is all about sweaters and dresses. I’m sure the seeds that I planted will continue to grow into the future. As they get older they’ll realize that their mother and I were right, you can get great deals and save money at the same time.
If you’ve never scoured the aisles of a thrift store be prepared to find way too many John Clancy books, forgotten wedding dresses, and piles of broken picture frames. Between these items you’ll find the goodness that’s waiting for you. Watch for eBay hawks and antique hounds, they’ll have a keen eye open for treasures to flip into cash. As a seasoned veteran I keep the eBay app open on my iPhone and I’ll do searches to see if something I find could be worth much more than the sticker price. And, that color wheel I mentioned in the beginning? Yes, I still have it. Maybe I’ll finally use it this year.