Eulogy For A Thrift Store

Firsthand feelings for a secondhand store. [~600 words.]

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I rode my bike the mile and a half north for what I thought was going to be a Saturday afternoon spent among the racks of the forlorn and the forgotten at my favorite thrift store. I was already giddy imagining what could await me in the Short-sleeved Blouses section or in the midst of Dresses.

This was, after all, the first brick-and-mortar store I had ever openly shopped for women’s clothes in. It was the first place, other than the Internet, where I had bought a dress.

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Fig. 2: Clippy cloppies

But what I had thought would be a stroll through a wonderland with my fingers being marked and reddened by the weight of too many hangers to count quickly turned into a fruitless visit to a barren garden. Unique, my favorite spot in the city to look for the oddities (like my cowgirl boots) that define my wardrobe, had closed.

I’m not sure what it is that’s always drawn me to thrift, secondhand, and the like. I know a part of the appeal is economic. Aside from the fact that the prices are great (which is essential for any girl starting to build a closet from scratch), there’s a certain stick-it-to-the-man appeal to buying brands after they’ve already been sold once. All the Gap and H&M I’ve picked up at Goodwills doesn’t undo the labor conditions involved in production, but it also doesn’t feed the beast directly.

Thrifting was one of the first things I ever did that felt remotely anti-capitalist. I’ve never been the militant type of leftist, but I try to seize any non-violent opportunity to break the profit model over my knee. (It’s held together more by strong hands than quality adhesive anyway.) Knowing that the money I spent on clothes at a place Unique went to good causes was a good feeling, made all the better by never a white person working there.

But thrift stores are unique in more than just their economic practices. They also feed my closet’s gaping maw with the finest hipster bullshit I can find anywhere. As nice as it is to find a like-new piece from whatever shop I can’t afford to step foot into, it was even better finding something that felt truly unique like, for example, a fur-lined blue pleather jacket mysteriously branded “Unicorn”.

First-hand sellers trying to mimic the thrift-store appeal have popped up all over in the last decade or so, proving that nothing can be proved economically viable without attracting bandits and thieves. But even the hippest shit from Urban or American will never have the same sensation as a the most basic piece that is older than me but looks better than I do.

Sure there’s some other great secondhand shops around me–a Salvation Army, for instance. But they don’t sell clothes and I have other moral issues with what they do. There are a few cute boutiques that specialize in rare vintage goods. These places help recycle the clothing that might otherwise be thrown out, but they don’t have non-profit partners and their prices are elevated for a more discriminatory clientele. I never see people shopping by the cartful there.

There are other Unique locations in the city. But the closest to my apartment now is more than three and a half miles away. That’s still bikeable, but a much bigger commitment than the old spot, especially when I’m loaded up for the trip home.

So, here’s to a store that’s name really said it all: you may have not technically been one of a kind, but it always felt that way to me.

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