Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Week in Review: On the Hunt

When grazing the aisles of your favorite thrift store, your senses sharp, your palms sweating as you stalk your prey, you are suddenly hyper aware of your surroundings. Senior citizens scatter about the bric-a-brac section. Young mothers are toting toddlers around the housewares. Hipsters claim the electronics section, swarming around the stacks of vinyl. Take a deep breath. You are now deep in the heart of the jungle…the land of competitive thrift shopping where only the fittest survive.

Seem exaggerated? You haven’t had the misfortune of hitting the thrift at peek hours, with the aisles clogged with overflowing carts and people bustling around the building like wild animals.

Sure, it helps to know the layout of the store and which colored-tag sale is the day’s special. But it also helps to get a feel for the clientele. Know your thrifty competitors. And yes, it is a competition.

Aside from the frugality of secondhand shopping, there’s something of a sport involved, a friendly competition of who can score the most swag for the smallest amount of money. This reasoning, coupled with the appeal to collectors, junkers and crafters will yield a wildly varied customer demographic. But generally speaking, there are certain group--species if you will--to which people fall in the spectrum of secondhand shoppers. Knowing who they are and what they’re about could give you the competitive edge to get what you want before they get it first.

The Matriarch.
"What!? A sale on ceramic animals at Goodwill? I'll be there in a jiffy!"

Mother, Grandmother. Doting Aunt. These women are the providers and caregivers for all things domestic. They have a keen eye to spot anything potentially useful for the home’s of any member of their family, their friend or their neighbor. You wouldn’t be shocked to overhear one of these women picking up a piece of kitchen decor and saying “Oh Edith, look at this ceramic rooster. You know who could use one of these? Your third cousin, Julie. She collects roosters. I think I’ll get it for her.” The matriarch can be typically seen in pastel pants, a sensible blouse and an animal embellished sweater, regardless of the season or temperature…for those “drafty” areas of the thrift.

Mr. Fix-It.

"Yes, Honey. I'm going to thrift that couch today for the basement....after I eat lunch."

Mr. Fix-It is the average guy’s guy looking to build, paint, caulk, mold, screw or smash anything deemed useful for what ever “big project” is next on his busy agenda. Be wary of overly tanned, mustached 40-somethings with worn denim and flannel. This guy means business and is likely heading straight to the furniture section with measuring tape hanging from his utility belt. These men are especially prevalent in the electronics section, sorting through buckets of miscellaneous plugs and wires. If you’re looking to thrift for home repair, this illusive creature will pose a threat to your domain.

The Hipster.

"We're too cutting edge to pose for pictures."

Ah, the hipster. In fashion choice, in lifestyle, the hipster poses a serious problem for avid thrifters. They’re buying up all the vinyl, they’re calling dibs on all the cool vintage clothes and they have a sixth sense when it comes to kitsch. Beware the skinny jeans and the intentionally mussed hair. And don’t let the thick lenses of the cat eye frames fool you, they have impeccable thrift vision and will be stalking the same territory. They are also known to travel in packs to spread throughout many sections of the store. This means trouble.

The Eccentric.

"Don't ya know that's a first edition ya have there? I have three. Want to hear a funny story?"

This is the wild card of thrift shoppers. It can come in many shapes and sizes and has no definitive age, race or gender. This person is in it for the oddities and in many ways be your most worthy adversary. A lot of the times this person, man or woman, holds some knowledge or familiarity with whatever found object they’ve acquired and will share said information with shoppers nearby. They are good for a brief history lesson. But limit your conversation, lest they spot all the coveted crazy items before you do. If you find someone who can tell you the inventor, make, model and purpose for every kitsch item in your basket…run, don’t walk toward the section you’d most like to scavenge.


Truth be told, there are many types of regular thrifters. These are not mere shoppers or casual purveyors of the secondhand. These are devotees to the thrift lifestyle. And in some cases they can put a damper on your overall thrift experience.

On the whole, I’ve had a very positive social experience while thrifting. Smiling, friendly banter at the checkout, the occasional shared laugh over some outcast item on the shelf. There are times, however, when thrift shopping is not so pleasant…when the competition gets a little ugly.

I have seen shoppers nearly come to blows over an item, arguing over “who saw it first.” I’ve seen aisles deliberately blocked with carts with a refusal to budge. I’ve seen people nearly knock others to the ground in their eager pursuit of something they spotted from across the store.

It ain’t pretty.

"That Pyrex is mine. Back off or I'll bite."
My advice is to be on the constant defense. Be polite. But also be aware that others are not always so cordial. A case in point example: If you are going to the thrift and know you’ll be rifling though the clothing racks and may need to try something on, do that first. Because, sad to say it’s not unheard of to come out to your unattended cart full of treasures to find a few of them missing to the buzzards who swooped in and snatched them while you were in the fitting room. Now, that’s bad thrift karma.

I had my own run-in with a fellow thrifter just the other day. After visiting the Montgomeryville Impact, I decided on the way home I’d follow a slightly scenic route so I can stop into the Hatboro Impact as well. And wouldn’t you know one of the shoppers from Montgomeryville must’ve had the same idea! I saw him immediately and was about to say hello…until I saw his reaction to recognizing me. He quickened his pace from the fiction to the vintage book section and holed himself in there for a solid 15 minutes. I guess he sized me up as a bookish girl and wanted to get to the good ones before I did. Touché, sir. Touché.

What wild thrifters have you spotted while on the hunt?


monogirl said...

I often get what I call "a follower." These are the people who can tell you know what's what and they follow you around the thrift store anticipating what you might want and snatch those things off the shelves. More often than not I find I want nothing to do with what they've got, but that does not stop them from being convinced that I am there solely to steal their bargains. They could be any people of the categories you've described. A follower is really more of a sub-type.

But I'm only really seriously annoyed by the people who have decided that the toy aisle is their personal babysitting service. That it is there to entertain their children while they leisurely shop elsewhere in the store. Fortunately my local thrift stores have started yelling at the parents or making an announcement over the loudspeaker that they will be kicked out if they don't attend their children. Yay, public shame.

Jackie Jardine said...

Oh "The Follower," yes! That's a classic problem in the thrift. I hear you loud and clear with the animal kingdom in the toy section. It's a free-for-all with toys scattered everywhere and nonstop screaming. God forbid you want to look for vintage toys, you might get rabies if one of them bites you, lol. One of my local thrifts has been quite vocal about minding the children as well. About time!

Reduce, Reuse and Rummage said...

I saw a Mr. Fix it in my local thrift store last week. As he saw a staff member cull some greasy mechanic books for the garbage, he made up this elaborate story about how he was about to buy those because he was about to get back into fixing cars. She ended up giving them to him because they were so dirty. The irony was that they were having a sale of 10 books for $1.00!

Jackie Jardine said...

Ya see, these archetype characters are a universal truth when it comes to the thrift! I love how Mr. Fix-It greased his way outta spending a buck, ha!

Vanessa said...

Clever post, I like the wild animal analogies. I'm writing my own "types of thrifters" post and I'm doing a big presentation on it too, eek!

There really are so many, mine is a little mean spirited- focuses on the negative/crazy types ;)

By the way, give me your tips lady, because I am going to Japan in October! Excitement! Okinawa and maybe Tokyo from there. I still want to come visit Philly for a 4 day weekend maybe in late September when you lucky people enjoy foliage we simply don't see in sunny Florida.

DearHelenHartman said...

What did I find? YOUR BLOG! Score! Enjoyed visiting and off to follow you (In a good way, I promise). I'm a sneaky thrifter, always playing bored, spotting things from the corner of my eye then swooping in.

Jackie Jardine said...

@ Van: Great thrifty minds think alike, I guess. I actually shot these pictures at the Philadelphia Zoo and was going through them the other day when the thrift-animal connection was made. There are so many options when it comes to the characters you meet at the thift. And unfortunately, not all of them are very pleasant. I look forward to reading about your run-ins.

Oh, oh, so excited for your upcoming trips. Do let me know when you'll be in town. You, me and Kira must meet-up. Oh and I have a surprise for you... a sort of Japananese care package. E-mail me with your address so I can send it your way when I'm finished.

@ Dear Helen. Well thank you much! I'm glad you found me and hope you enjoy my wacky thrift adventures. Did you happen to find me through Drew's blog Kitch Cafe?

Ah ha, you swoop in. Good technique!

Nancy said...

Jackie, next time you are headed to the Hatboro Impact, give me a call. It would be nice to meet you! There's a new thrift shop on Jacksonville Road near the Warminster Wal-Mart but I do not recall the name of it.

Jackie Jardine said...

That's a great idea, Nancy. I will! I don't get there terribly often, as I prefer the Montgomeryville Impact. But next time I plan a trip, I'll let you know!