Thrift Store Review: Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s, Lincoln Heights

2015-07-26 01.47.02Tucked in an industrial area north of downtown Los Angeles which you’ve probably never been to unless Waze has punked you en route to Dodger Stadium is one of the best thrift stores in the city. St. Vincent de Paul’s in Lincoln Heights is warehouse massive, clean, and boasts great prices. It’s among the most comprehensively-stocked thrift stores I’ve ever been in, containing both a snowboard section and a rack exclusively devoted to dog clothing. I don’t 2015-07-26 02.34.38object to dogs wearing clothes per se, but I do resent it when they’re dressed better than I am, so if you shop here for your dog, all I ask is that you don’t rub my face in it if we show up at a social event wearing the same thing.

Overall rating: A

What to buy:

1. Mugs/Cups. There is nothing special about any of the 2015-07-26 02.26.02dishware I saw here — except  the price. The mugs and cups are .49 cents apiece, which is significantly cheaper than even the cheapest new mug you’re likely to find. If you can’t drink out of a receptacle of the Young Ladies Institute of Fresno’s 1993 class with pride, frankly, I don’t want to know you.

2. Pianos. Most thrift stores don’t have the space to store pianos, so the fact that St. Vincent’s has a piano section at all is an oddity in itself. I am no piano expert, but a quick look on SoCal pianos shows their used models start at $395, while the one made of blonde wood was selling for 2015-07-26 01.52.57$250.00. The one to its right, the George Steck, was going for $495, and it appears to be a respectable manufacturer. (They stopped production in the 80s, though some pianos with the name have been issued from China recently. This one clearly predates that). Here’s a thread I found about the pros and cons of buying used pianos, the upshot of which is that it’s worth having a technician inspect it before you buy it. Also, tuning them typically costs between $75 – $125.

3. Ties. In the history of humanity, has anyone ever worn out a tie? Unless the owner has drunkenly paraded himself through a series of wedding receptions or spilled red sauce on himself during an Italian meal, a new tie looks identical to an old one.  2015-07-26 02.11.12Most of these go for $4.99, including a Van Heusen that I picked up at random. New ties from the same designer average around $40.00. You know you’re only wearing it twice, anyway, so why not save a few bucks?

4. Wedding/Quinceanera/Formal 2015-07-26 02.06.37Dresses. It’s pretty unusual to see a large collection of formal dresses at a thrift store, but this place has them. The wedding dresses ranged from $39.99 to $59.99, and  were all in good shape. We can safely assume they were only worn once, if at all.

2015-07-26 01.55.495. Furniture. The furniture was priced fairly. I saw this super cute Mercury vintage sewing machine in its old wooden case for $49.00 which probably dates from the 1950s or 60s. This floral couch was marked at $75.00.2015-07-26 02.27.25

6. Computers. This is the only thrift store I have ever been to where the computer systems were operational and set up for testing.  Each one also has all the relevant specs listed, so kudos to St. Vincent’s de Paul’s for that. I am not a PC person but they were at 2015-07-26 01.56.43least running Windows 7, which is current. Average price was $175.00 for the whole system.

A few other notes:

I give this place a lot of credit for individually pricing their items. Goodwill, for example,2015-07-26 02.14.16 typically has a flat price for all categories of clothing, like women’s short sleeve shirts. This leads to a number of items being overpriced, as well as underpriced. They have different colored tags so items that have been in the store a while are automatically discounted.

2015-07-26 02.36.39Lastly, if you are thinking about making the move to nude beaches, but want to ease into it, consider these brand new bikini bottoms for only $0.59 each. If anyone notices new bikini tops in another thrift store, let me know, and we’ll combine them and make our fortunes!

Thrift Store Review: Council Thrift, Venice Blvd. location

Want to buy used in L.A., but you’re not sure where to start? Let me help you, aspiring shopper. Each thrift store has its own personality and style, like a slightly worn snowflake that may or may not be wildly overpriced. This will be my first review of L.A. thrift stores, with many more to come.

Council Thrift is a chain run by the National Council of Jewish Women. This Saturday I went to the branch near my house at 12120 Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista. It featured an ‘Under New Management’ banner, which seemed odd, until I read the scathing yelp reviews about staff rudeness. I have been to this store on numerous occasions, and hadn’t noticed any of the staff getting out of line, but honestly, unless someone spits on me (so far, so good), I tend to brush it off, so if customer service is important to you, don’t go by me.

The store is well-organized, and has some good deals. In the past I’ve thought them to be pretty expensive — maybe it’s that new management I’m hearing about! Overall rating: B

What to buy:

IMG_20150718_1644435541. Dishes. Never buy new dishes. Seriously. I found an 88-piece set of dishes for $75 marked Berkeley House, which were decent, though not quite top notch. That amounts to less than a dollar per item. Comparatively, this rock-bottom set of 16 pieces of dinnerware from Target will run you $59.99.

2. Shoes. While the Goodwill in posh Santa Monica sells their usIMG_20150718_163337983_HDRed shoes for $15(!) the shoes here start at $6, and I didn’t see a single pair marked above $10. Every time I’ve been there I’ve seen at least a few pairs of high-end shoes like these low-heeled Paolos. (I hadn’t heard of the brand, but I could tell they were expensive, and they are. This pair was a mere $8!)

IMG_20150718_163818027_HDR3. Purses. They start (and mostly stay) at $6! A purse is a great item to buy used, as they are frequently in mint condition, and these were no exception. Probably because older people donate here, there were also quite a few cute vintage ones.

4. Art. Most of the paintings and prints were unexceptional, but there IMG_20150718_171052964were a few treasures, like this pair of paintings of big-eyed kids that were popular in the sixties. Also, if this were an era when I had less restraint, I would’ve snapped up this baby Pope under glass** for $20 in a heartbeat.

5. FurniturIMG_20150718_171138295_HDRe. I didn’t see anything extra special on this trip, but these pine end tables were available for $20/each, which seemed decent. In the past I have found fantastic mid-century furniture and lamps at very good prices. (Again, because it’s not a hip, young thrift store, I think they do IMG_20150718_170642535not always understand the value of these items.) Several years ago I purchased a pair of 70s lamps with slightly damaged shades for $25/each, which was a steal.

What to avoid:

1. Jewelry. I am an avid vintage jewelry collector, and thrift stores overprice their jewelry without exception. Most eighties and nineties costume jewelry is valueless, and ebay is a much better place to buy.

In short, it’s a decent place to shop, but not extra special. There’s almost always some Judaica mixed in the tchotchke section, if that’s your bag. I’ve also noticed guys swarming the vinyl racks (again, it’s old people stuff!) but I neglected to check out the pricing while I was there. I’ll let you know the skinny if I go back!

**My mom notes this is actually the Infant of Prague, baby Jesus, and my grandma had one. I vaguely remember this.

P.S. If you buy used shoes you should certainly clean and disinfect them before wearing them (see post about this below). For those who fear infection, I’d like to point out that even when you buy new shoes in a store, you have no idea who tried them on before you, so you are running the same risk there.

All Things Shoes

IMG_20150715_083831444It is always disappointing when a beloved pair of shoes is rendered unwearable. Running shoes can be dropped off with Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program, where they are ground up for use as tracks, fields, and playgrounds. Non-athletic shoes, compromised of much more varied materials, are essentially non-recyclable. Luckily, many shoe issues are solvable, and these tips may keep your shoes out of the trash can for a little longer.

1. Stinkiness. My blue flats recently started exuding an unpleasant odor after I went to Vegas. Don’t judge me, it was literally over 100 degrees every single day! I’m a human being, just like you! No big deal. I  put them in a plastic bag, shoved them into my freezer overnight, and Voila! no more stink.

Stuffing newspaper in them for a few days or spraying them with rubbing alcohol reportedly works as well.

2. Surface Wear. If your shoes are a very ordinary color (black or brown), you can generally pick up a tin of shoe polish for around four bucks, though fancier options are available. Aren’t they always!

3. Wear on Soles/Heels. I often extol the value of tailors and cobblers (I know the word has a Grimm Fairy Tale vibe, but that doesn’t take away from its accuracy), and I will continue to do so here. The tips of the heels on women’s shoes are a bargain to replace. I got them done for around $10 on a vintage pair I purchased. The cost of other work varies widely, but if you feel it’s not worth it to spend $20 to repair your shoes, I think you should consider buying better shoes. Quality is always cheaper in the long run.

All shoes wear out over time, but there are many steps you can take to minimize shoes damage before it happens, including keeping them out of hot and dry places, making smart choices of materials for repairs, and having thin rubber soles put on your shoes as soon as you get them.

Side note: when I was a ‘brownie‘ in the 1970s, the third grade launching pad to Girl Scouts, the brownie handbook contained a variation of the Elves and the Shoemaker from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The overall message was that brownies should be like the elves, quietly doing the work of the shoemaker at night and never taking any credit for it. That incredibly sexist message never sat well with me, even as a third-grader, and it annoys me to this day. I never held it against shoemakers, though, who I have boundless affection for.

It does explain why I never went out to join the Girl Scouts.

Eating It Up: Surplus Food in Massachusetts, plus new paint dropoff options

Broccoli_SoupNPR did a great story on Daily Table, a grocery store that has opened in my home state of Massachusetts which offers great deals on surplus food. I am thrilled about this organization, which was founded by former Trader Joe’s president Doug Rauch, who was appalled by all the food waste (up to 40%) in the United States, much of it edible, but slightly less attractive than what was deemed appropriate for for-profit grocery stores. They sell super cheap groceries (tuna for 55 cents a can!) and prepared food for the masses, who are literally eating it up.

I also keep hearing ads on the radio for Paint Care, a non-profit set up by the ACA (American Coatings Association) which provides drop-off locations for unused paint. I’ve always gone to my local Hazardous Material dropoff event for this in the past, which has not always been convenient. More options for those who need them!

Big Water


“All water is holy water.” Rajiv Joseph, Animals Out of Paper

Our water filter purification system at work went on the fritz recently, and I was shocked — shocked, I tell you — by the number of my co-workers who refused, even temporarily, to drink the tap water directly from the faucet citing either (a) its bad taste or (b) its questionable safety. This prompted a tirade from me about how if no one was going to use our tap water for drinking, we should let Mexico have it, because they would be thrilled, and that it was pointless to keep it up to FDA standards if we were going to use it solely to flush down the toilets of this great city. This tirade, like most tirades, convinced no one. Even so, I can’t quite let it go.

Bottled water companies have hoodwinked the public, solving a problem that doesn’t exist. For one thing, tap water is more heavily regulated than bottled water. According to the Environmental Working Group, which has studied millions of records from 45 U.S. states, about 44% of bottled water comes directly from the tap, anyway, some of it with no additional filtering. Even if it is filtered, it’s almost always difficult to find out exactly which “contaminants” are being filtered, and why. The upshot of which is: you could be spending 1900 times as much money on your water simply because it comes in a bottle. You can see this list to see how your local municipality compares to others, and what potential contaminants there might be.

What about taste? I concede that I, too, drank the water from the purification system (provided by ChungHo, a company I find dubious based on their Facebook feed citing a Vanilla Ice song alone) because it tastes more refreshing than the straight tap, though I suspect some of its good taste comes from its chilly temperature alone. Variation in local plumbing may account for this. However, study after study shows that people often can’t taste the difference, such as one by Good Morning America showing New York tap was far tastier than any of the bottled water options.

You don’t live in New York? A 2011 study at Boston University which recruited 67 students to drink both tap and bottled water showed that only a third of them could identify which was bottled, a third thought the tap was the bottled water, and the remaining third had no opinion. Correct me if I’m wrong, statisticians, but those results would be the same as random guessing. And what about health considerations? The Earth Sciences department tested both the Vermont Pure and the tap water and found they both met FDA guidelines, though the bottled water contained higher levels of magnesium and calcium, which can potentially affect flavor.

In fairness, I live in L.A., which does have some of our nation’s worst tasting water, and I ran across this BuzzFeed video in which a small but convincing sample size of participants could tell immediately the difference between L.A. tap and the other bottled water. So if you live here and don’t like the taste, you can always get a filter for your faucet or refill those multi-gallon jugs at the supermarket. Surely you can find some option that doesn’t mean buying bottle after bottle of an overpriced, life-giving beverage you can get for almost nothing, lining the pockets of Big Water.


Fun at Haz Mat

haz_matOkay, not exactly fun, but your local hazardous material drop off event is probably coming up soon, and it is a convenient way to rid yourself of dangerous household items and substances that are inappropriate for the trash. Collected items usually include batteries, paint, household cleaners and garden supplies, light bulbs (not incandescents) and electronics. I went to mine several weeks ago and got rid of my growing collection of unwanted items, and it was super easy and efficient. Also, since everyone was dressed up in protective gear, it made it feel more dangerous than it actually was. Exciting!

Why bother? Substances collected at hazardous material events have toxic components that can leach into the ground and water supply if they’re simply chucked in a landfill with everything else. It’s also pretty unpleasant (and potentially unhealthy) for your garbage handler.

LADWP customers: rebates + free stuff = helping the environment

If you’re an L.A. resident not living off the grid, and you’re concerned about the environment, the L.A. Department of Water and Power offers a number of ways for you to do your bit, ranging from super easy to a little more involved. In the first category, if you haven’t already, go paperless! If you currently receive paper bills and sign up to go electronic only by June 30th, you will receive a ten dollar credit on your next bill. While you’re mucking around in your online account, why not convert some or all of your power usage to green power. They say it’s slightly more expensive, but I did it a while back and honestly haven’t noticed the difference. Anyway, if it’s a few bucks extra a month for me to know my lights are powered with wind and solar power, it’s totally worth it.

2015-02-16 04.26.00What about the water part? I know it’s rained a bit lately, but FYI, we are still in a serious drought, and the LADWP is offering many incentives to address this, and each and every one of them will ultimately save you money. First off, they are handing out low-flow showerheads and sink aerators for free. If you live in a complex, they will cheerfully send you a whole batch of stuff on their dime. We got a box of these goodies at my condo complex and I installed my showerheads, and my shower experience has honestly improved. The LADWP also offer rebates for installation of high-efficiency toilets and washers, so if you’re doing some renovations or thinking about upgrading, anyway, you might as well hit them up.

2015-01-24 00.45.52What about outside? Are you running sprinklers all the time to keep your lawn green through southern California summers? Why? Because you like mowing your lawn so much, or are hoping a baseball team will use it? Then consider that maybe it’s not worth importing water from out of state (85% of the water here is from outside California) so you can pretend you live on the east coast. The LADWP is currently offering rebates of up to $3/square foot for converting your lawn drought-tolerant-landscaping-2to drought-resistant native plants. And don’t think it’s an aesthetic sacrifice. A lot of those gardens are quite fetching and are way more compelling than a sea of overwatered grass. If you’re committed to your grass lawn for whatever reason, there’s a good chance you’re overwatering it — you only need one inch of water per week to keep it going.

Finally, they also offer incentives on the power side. Noticing your old refrigerator is a real drain on your bill? It probably is, as it’s typically the biggest user of energy on there after your air conditioner. LADWP will offer you a rebate if you upgrade to an Energy Star model. Thinking about going solar? We’re looking into it my complex, because there are significant tax incentives as well as LADWP rebates.

Not sure where you could be saving money? A LADWP representative will come to your home to assess energy-efficient cost-saving things you can do to save on your bill. If some of these things are out of your financial reach, you might quality for one of their financial assistance projects. In short, the LADWP wants you to conserve energy and water as much as your mom wanted you to eat your vegetables, so why not let them do it?

Coats for Cubs

Bassarisk_fur_coatUsed clothing chain Buffalo Exchange is sponsoring their annual Coats for Cubs program, where they collect fur apparel and donate it to various animal rehabilitation centers to use as bedding for animals. It sounded kind of weird to me, but once I saw these baby squirrels hanging out on a old fur coat, I was totally won over. They accept donations through Earth Day, April 22nd.

If you have fur coats or hats you would like to donate outside of their drive period, they provide a list of rehab centers to contact.

Dishing It Out

IMG_20150131_142836020You know what sucks? When you break a dish. And you know what sucks even more? When you break a vintage dish that is crucial to your beloved set.

Several months ago, I knocked over my Crooksville creamer from my grandparents’ old set of dishes and broke it. If it were a plate or a cup, it would have been no big deal, because I have many of these. But it was the creamer, of which there was only one. Sure, I could have bought a new creamer and matching sugar bowl. But what about the sugar bowl I already had? Could I really leave it hanging like that?

If this were twenty years ago, I would have visited a few flea markets and then given up in defeat. But in this magical age where anything can be found if you look hard enough, I simply ordered a replacement creamer from Replacements Ltd. It arrived, lovingly packed, about a week later.

I’m not going to lie to you; this wasn’t a completely straightforward process. First I searched for Crooksville items on ebay and came up empty, and then tried a few other sellers of old dishes. But once I found Replacements Ltd. I was able to determine the pattern name (CRO5) and, $19.95 and shipping costs later, I was back in business.

You may lack the commitment and/or non-medical grade OCD to do this research. For that, I cannot fault you. However, if it is a key piece of dishware, it’s totally worth it to save the set.

If you have your eye on a not-quite-complete set of dishes somewhere, it might be worth an advance look at Replacements Ltd or one of the other dish replacement sites to see if you could supplement your purchase and make it work.

Now if only I knew what to do with my broken creamer! If someone near me was working on mosaic project I’d gladly hand it over!

Don’t Flush it Away: Expired Medication

1024px-USMC-100209-M-1998T-001You may have seen stories about Prozac being at detectable levels in drinking water. The same is true of antibiotics, veterinary drugs and synthetic hormones. A significant amount of this is probably from humans excreting these substances (ahem) in the natural course of events, but let’s not all add to the problem by needlessly flushing medications down the drain or dumping them in the trash willy-nilly.

So what should you do with your expired prescription and non-prescription medications? Your first stop should be the Dispose My Meds locator. You will note that most dropoff points are either pharmacies or local law enforcement headquarters (since there are legal issues with prescription drugs, and cops probably don’t want the streets flooded with everyone’s leftover oxycontin.)

Not finding anything? Local police stations in New Jersey, Virginia Beach, and Hennepin County in Minnesota will take your unwanted or expired medications. California’s Sonoma and Mendocino counties offer a variety of dropoff points, as does Washington state.

It also looks like CVS is gearing up with disposal locations to be passed through local police. I will update you as soon as I hear anything.

Are none of those options convenient? You can always save them up along with your worn-out batteries and old electronics for your next hazardous waste event. They almost always take expired medications, prescription and non-prescription. The one in Los Angeles apparently won’t take my old tires and urine, though. Snobs!

Still confused about how to handle your specific meds? Take a look at the FDA guidelines.