copyright 2001 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved
Crank's Corner: Commentary by Linda Marcas
Do you like to shop? Does getting a good deal on an item make you feel all puffed up and pleased
with yourself? Do you enjoy bragging to friends about how little you paid for an article they admire? If
you answered "yes" to all three of these questions, you're probably a veteran thrift store shopper. If
never shopped in a thrift, but answered "yes" to all three anyway, then it's high time you took the plunge
into the wonderful world of second-hand stuff.
Shopping in thrift stores is like prospecting for gold or hunting for buried treasure; sometimes, one
must sift through mountains of lime green polyester before finding that perfect rayon crepe. On the other
hand, if you're looking for lime green polyester, or some other dreadful but generally plentiful item like
maternity clothes, office blouses with floppy bow ties, or cowl-necked sweaters, it can seem like
has swooped in just ahead of you and purchased every one in the store. The Thrift Gods can be pesky
The real thrill of thrift shopping, for me, comes when I find something really cool or unusual,
perhaps even valuable, that I wasn't looking for and did not expect to find. "I didn't know I wanted or
needed it until I saw it, because I had no idea that it existed at all." There are some surprising artifacts at
large in the universe, such as roller skates from the 1970s that, with the pull of a knob, become
wooden-soled sandals, for walking around in stores, or going up steps. What a find!
More roller skates: ladies' size 11, red, yellow, and blue, lightning bolt appliques. These skates
used to be owned by Wonder Woman; they fit my neice perfectly. Maybe she uses them, maybe she
doesn't, but, even as an objet d'art, they are the envy of her pals. (Or so I choose to delude myself.)
And then there is the Cosmic Order, whereby one puts in a wish for some impossible object, only
to have it show up, within a week or two, at a good price. We sleep under a large skylight, and it's
to sleep in with a bright light shining down upon one's closed eyelids. Hence, my husband put in a
Order for a sleep mask, the kind worn by pampered heiresses in old movies. No big surprise,
when one showed up at our local thrift within the week, at an extravagant 75 cents!
Okay, you say, that's not so unusual. How about this: we went to a party, outdoors, and there was
one of those enamelled conical ski-lodge fireplaces providing a little ambiance and heat. "We want
we cried in unison. We put in our Cosmic Order, and, less than a week later, Ron saw one for sale for
sitting at an old, closed-down gas station in some tiny town. He shoved the $10, the "For Sale" sign,
note saying "Thanks!" through the mail slot, and we had our fireplace. How weird is that?
"Antiques Roadshow" is currently the most popular program on PBS; is there anyone who hasn't
dreamed of finding some overlooked treasure squirrelled away in Granny's attic? "Oh, that old thing!
put it with that other stuff that's going to Goodwill!" Imagine how thrilled we were when something we'd
purchased for $2.00, just because we thought it looked cool, turned out to be a rare piece of Van
pottery worth $750! Of course, not every piece of "trash" turns out to be actually "treasure," but
compares to the thrill you feel when it does.
In the puff-puff mail-order catalogs that my mother passes along to me, refurbished rotary-dial
telephones are selling for $200 or more. No touch-tone, no buttons, no speed-dial, no memory; these
the real thing. Stick your finger in the hole and twirl, if you're old enough to remember how. But why
catalog prices, when you can find old phones in thrift stores, usually for less than $5.00? I have a pink
phone, and an aqua phone, and a friend in California has a bright green wall phone; I found them all in
I can go from one year to the next without ever setting foot in a mall, but I regularly make the
rounds of my favorite thrift stores. Sometimes, I hear an item "calling" me, to the point where I'll make
unscheduled stop to see what it might be. More often than not, I'll find a Lite Brite or a Chinese
game or some other item from my permanent "wish list." You can build an entire decorating scheme
multiple variations of common objects, all without shelling out high prices for pre-fab "collectibles." One
coffee pot is just a coffe pot, but fifty coffee pots are a short history of industrial design.
Thrift stores aren't just for cool stuff, either; you can get practical items there, as well. Why pay
$50 or more for a rag wool sweater from L.L. Bean or Land's End when you can find the same
complete with label, for a mere $3.50? It is not possible to own too many black turtlenecks; they
out of style, and, if you own enough of them, at least one of them will probably be clean, wearable, and
the top of the pile. Big-name designer neckties are ridiculously overpriced if you buy them new, but the
thrifts are full of them, usually a buck each.
Rummage sales, flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores; I've been spoiled by years of great
bargains. Mall prices give me sticker shock or make me laugh out loud in disbelief; I can't believe that
people shell out that kind of money for boring, trendy stuff that is exactly like the boring, trendy stuff that
everyone else already has. Get over your fear of metaphysical cooties, throw off the shackles of fashion
slavery and dive into the ocean of the unique, the strange, and the goofy goodies that are the sunken
treasures of thrift stores. Live dangerously; go out and find some cheap thrills.