Tag Archives: deal

As Thrift is Joy, the Store is Home

miniature ceramic houses 004Joyful one minute, sad the next, I drive out of the thrift store parking lot a final time. After all these months, what have I learned working as a sales associate here?

While navigating my ride home, I reminisce.

At the store’s back doors, I go through countless articles people have just donated. Immense amount of junk, I think, even for when it was new! Get a load of this crappy little ceramic house. And what about that – the world’s ugliest candlestick holder? And now a plastic cutting board with a zillion cuts in it. No wonder they got rid of these things. Hey – don’t be so judgmental. Your job is to sort the donations, not roll your eyes. Just chalk it up to a “beauty’s in the eye of the beholder” kind of thing.

But then, many of the donors turn right around, enter the front of the store, and buy more stuff. What am I supposed to think? Stuff, stuff, stuff. Buy, buy, buy. There’s nothing wrong with buying, per se, it’s just that I’ve noticed how much people play such a value on consuming, far more than I realized before I started working here.

While cashiering, I basically serve two groups of regulars. The first are dealers here in Santa Fe, buying bargains for their own thrift stores or online outlets. The other group, a far larger one, is women over sixty. They love to shop. And shop. And shop. God love ’em – they make the store go round.

Then there are all the other sub-groups of shoppers. One such group is the needy, people who can’t afford to shop anywhere but a thrift store, especially for clothes. Another group consists of the noticeably ill, disabled, or those challenged in some way, perhaps so strapped by health care costs that thrift stores like this are their only opportunity to buy clothes, furniture and whatnot. And another group – I’ve finally deduced – are here for something quite personal: the comfort they receive from the thrift store experience. Maybe they like the people who work here – regular faces and fixtures in their lives. Maybe they’re lonely. Or maybe it’s as simple as understanding a day just doesn’t feel centered without a visit to the thrift store, a little home away from home.

A thrift store, however, is made up of a wide collection of individuals, many who carry an unfortunate situation around with them. I’ve seen customers walk up to the counter and pay with change, the only currency they have. I’ve consoled donors who’ve broken down at the back door, unable to watch me unload from the car a lifetime of personal items that belonged to their just-departed spouse. I’ve picked up furniture from people who’ve just lost their job.

I’ve watched our manager ask shoplifters to leave the store. I’ve caught people ripping price tags off items hoping to get a better price at the checkout stand. I’ve dealt with hagglers who, with every visit to the store, want to wiggle the price down. Are these people con artist types, or just desperate and down on their luck?

Add to these folks the customers who wait by the front door ten minutes before we open, staring at me through the large glass windows, hoping I might open early for them. There’s those who walk in two minutes before closing, then linger ten minutes before heading to the checkout stand. And there’s those who donate large bags of goods, knowing inside that big black sack is also a lot of trash they’re happy to get off their hands.

To my surprise, many customers speak with thick, foreign accents – not just Spanish – making it crucial we take the time to help them understand the money transaction they’re about to make. There’s the time it takes us to finally understand certain customers really aren’t a threat to the store, only that they want to spend most of the day here to shop, relax and intermittently lie on a couch to read while occasionally nibbling on a snack. And there’s always the time we take to listen to customers talk about how much they know about gold, silver and jewelry – but don’t.

But what customers share most in their thrift shop experience is joy. Yes, joy. When people find what they want, they often bring it to the counter like a kid who’s just opened the Cracker Jack box to find the best prize ever inside. I sense many customers see this store as a house of healing, another home for them within our beautiful city, one that can be humbling to live in. And I am humbled by the joyous smiles I see at the counter, especially from those who’ve fallen on hard times.


In hindsight, I realize being part of these little customer joys was the perk to help me and other sales associates get through long days. Every day was long. Perhaps sorting through thousands of donations made us feel tired (imagine opening up your own garage doors to accept all the neighborhood’s yard sale items that didn’t sell over the weekend). Perhaps cashiering all day did it. Or, maybe it was just trying to make every customer a little happier than when they first shuffled in through the doors.

Anything to see joy.

Anything to  have a job.

Anything to live in Santa Fe.


Filed under Blog, The Daily Thought

Vangelis Tapes and China Dolls Means It Must be a Garage Sale

iStock_000021481612Small Here’s my personal experience with garage sales: They have something cheap to sell; I buy it; it becomes part of my yard sale in five years, completing a kind of vicious cycle. But, like an addiction, I can’t stay away from a good garage sale.

Some, however, turn out to be not so good, like the one I attended this weekend, a multi-family garage sale crammed with items piled up in some woman’s living room.

I see lots of candles and candle holders, the apparent theme for this sale. Most have old, burned wax on them. A young female holds up an eight-stick candle holder.

“Bernie, look. Bernie – look. Only fifteen dollars.”

Ten feet away, looking blank, Bernie replies, “Fine. If you really think we need it.” I figure he already knows what I know about garage sales, women’s impulses, and crap you don’t need, and is light years ahead of her, but will still be stuck paying for all of them. When she asks permission to buy similar items down the row, I know their marriage is in trouble, perhaps a reclamation project all its own. Citing their marriage as a dumpster fire is a broad brush stroke conclusion, but I’m betting I’ll be right in only a few years.

To break the wax monotony, I’m relieved to spot a set of plastic margarita glasses. But they look like they’ve been run through a dishwasher hundreds of times, and the days of actually being able to see through them are hundreds of hangovers over. A woman approaches the twelve-piece set. Now she’s beaming over her new-found prize. What is it about those margarita glasses I missed?

The next table has a dizzying array of articles dumped on it. The highlight is a $245 tiara next to a Vangelis cassette tape, items that will never be placed side by side again in this universe during my lifetime.

Stacks of used clothing, all nicely folded and grouped, await me on the next table. I don’t want to pick up any article for fear of having to refold it as nicely as the seller did.  Going through used clothes always freaks me out. Who knows – these could be John Wayne Gacy’s shorts. Who wants to comb through someone else’s clothes anyway? And what are the chances they’ll have my pants size? Zero.

On the wall above me is a poster print of Dalmations blending into the spotty snowy landscape behind them. This relaxes me. Out of curiosity, I ask how much it costs. The host says it’s not for sale since it’s on her living room wall.

The last table is covered in items bought over the internet: wallets, China dolls, propane tanks, beaded belts, car grill covers, leather caps – anything the seller thinks will eventually sell, if not this weekend, but by the last weekend he’s alive to sell.

I’ve had enough. I have to leave. I’m getting depressed being around so much junk.

On the way out, I spot a sofa by the door. Yet another piece of junk, I keep walking. By the time I get to my car, I stop. Didn’t I see a sign on the sofa that said “25 cents?” They’re kidding, right?

I walk back to see it’s true. But no wonder. It’s old, and I can only imagine how the big stain on the cushions got there. I start to leave when I notice the back of the sofa looks brand new. In mint condition. Hmm-m-m. The entire couch for 25 cents. Where else am I going to find an entire couch for 25 cents?

The owner walks up and says, “But you gotta haul it away today.”

I don’t care. I want it. What a deal. How can I not get it? Then again, it is pretty junky. Oh, come on, it’s not that bad. Yes, it is. No, it isn’t. Yes, it is, and probably not worth more than three dollars.

A guy behind me says, “You thinking of it?”

“Maybe,” I say.

“A dollar,” he says to the sofa owner.

I turn around to see the guy is Bernie. “Two dollars,” I reply.

“Three,” Bernie says.

Nobody can resist a garage sale.


Filed under Blog, The Daily Thought