Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thrift shopping

How many of you like a bargain? Okay, okay, I see all of you are raising your hands.

So how many of you love to snoop around in thrift shops?  If you have never done so, you just don't know what you might be missing.

Forget garage sales.  You have to drive around to find them, park two or three blocks away, and then discover all they have are dirty children's clothes, odds and ends of dishes, small appliances that may or may not work, or puzzles with pieces missing.

But at most thrift shops, donated items are cleaned, tested, and tend to be in sets, like dinnerware or kitchen canisters. Really gross stuff gets rejected as this gives a good thrift store a bad name.

My friend and I ventured to the charming town of Cambridge, Minnesota, one day last week. This was a half-way meeting point for both of us, she from St. Cloud and me from Lindstrom.  Our purpose in meeting was to catch up on our lives as we don't get a chance to visit very often, and to treat ourselves to lunch and a good visit.

We accomplished our goal with a two-hour lunch at Hermann's Bakery and Cafe on Main Street that was absolutely wonderful. A cozy table by the window outlined with lace curtains and looking out on Main Street decorated with yellow autumn mum plants provided the ambiance for a yummy spinach salad, freshly baked cinnamon bread, and creamy Chai tea.

But our minds during lunch were fixed on the view directly across the street: the Shalom Thrift Shop, which beckoned as we ate and demanded our attention. Neither of us were about to resist.

Like most thrift shops, it is staffed totally with volunteers. One of the nicest thrift stores I have seen, it's more like a department store - neat, clean, spacious aisles, well organized, and with professional-looking displays.

The shop started in 1981 with a ladies' church group offering free clothing in a parsonage basement one day a week to those in need. It quickly grew from the basement to a grocery store parking lot, to space in an entire house, to a shoe store, to its present location, an old Ben Franklin store on Main Street.

All items were spotless. Dishes sparkled, clothes were clean, books were categorized, and Halloween costumes and decorations were prominently featured.

There was even a quiet library sitting area where you could take a break and peruse the books on the shelf before making the decision to purchase a book.  Hmmm, a paperback for 35 cents? Or a hard cover book for a dollar?

Greeting cards were ten cents each. Again, categorized by occasion and neatly lined up with matching envelopes.

Entertaining as it was, and notwithstanding the wonderful time spent with my dear friend, I approached the checkout line with a full cart. A tissue holder in a southwestern design for our home in Arizona, a cake pan, a pair of slacks, a book, a Tupperware picnic set, a wooden salad serving set, three boxes of hardware for our Arizona bedroom, and nightlight bulbs.

Grand total?  Seventeen dollars!

The real value, however, came from realizing that my purchases were a vehicle for helping someone in need in the local community. All donated, with pleasant volunteer staff that sort, clean, fix, stock, and ring up a sale, that $17 might go into a gas tank for someone searching for a job, buy a clean blanket, pay for bus fare, or furnish a child with school lunches.

Next time you see a thrift store, check it out. Bargains abound for you, and benefit a neighbor as a bonus.

Spending an afternoon with a friend?  Diane and I can attest to the fun an afternoon of thrift shopping can provide.