Articles from August 2015

Thrift Store Review: Value Valley Center, Van Nuys

storefront_smallerIn much the same way you don’t start your career as a pianist playing Carnegie Hall, you would be well-advised to start your thrifting journey somewhere other than Valley Value Center. Not because it isn’t worth your time, but because it requires a stamina and commitment that newbies may not possess. It occupies a former Circuit City location, and is suitably vast. This Saturday it was filled with throngs of shoppers all chasing the elusive dream of finding an item of value that did not bear a red tag, which would mean an additional 50% off.

The prices were quite fair at Valley Value, and, judging by the Yelp crowd_smallercomments, there were some serious deals to be had if you invest the time to dig. (A Vera Wang wedding dress was mentioned.) Unfortunately, also judging from the Yelp comments, it has an incredibly rude and/or accusatory staff, and quite possibly a pickpocketing problem. I left unmolested with my wallet intact, but a fellow shopper commented to me, after I asked her about the lack of dressing room, “if you knew what went on in there before, you’d be glad there wasn’t one anymore.” I didn’t have the heart to pursue this thread any further, but I will caution you to guard your money and wear a tight-fitting outfit so you can try on clothes over it.

Parking was easy, and they made continual announcements about sales in both English and Spanish, which was a nice touch. One minor drawback: they take cash only, so be prepared! A big shoutout to my friends Sonia and Jorge who came with me. Overall rating: B+

What to buy:

Jorge_golf_clubs_smaller1. Golf Clubs. I don’t know if they always have golf clubs, but they had quite a few to choose from when we were there. Jorge noted that they were common brands, like Callaway, and started at around $9.00. I know golfing technology is always advancing, but this might be a decent option for someone new to the sport, especially since used options online would be prohibitively expensive to ship.

2. Books. They had a big section and most were priced at $1.95 or $2.95. As you might expect, it was a fairly contemporary selection, though I managed to pick up two 19th century schoolbooks and a Theodore Dreiser short story collection from 1929, which I look forward to reading. They were $2.95 apiece.

painting_smaller3. Paintings/Wall Hangings. I’m not saying everything in this category was pure gold, but the price was always right, and the inventory was extensive. I found stuff for as little as $2.99, including this picture for $7.99. Beats looking at a crack in the wall.

4. Stuffed Animals. Stuffed animals are stuffed_animals_smallerone of those things, like bras, that you have to either be on a serious budget or have an incredible commitment to recycling to get on board with. A stuffed animal in a thrift store always looks somewhere between sad and eerie, like a stock photo that accompanies a story on abducted children. Surprisingly, though, Valley Value manages to rise above this. All their stuffed toys appeared clean and even cheerful, and they sold entire bags of them for $2.00 apiece. If those kids are young enough, they’ll never know the difference, anyway. Now you can save your money for beer, parents.

linen_small5. Linen. They had an extensive collection of bedsheets which were clean and in good condition. Most were selling for $4.99. It’s tough to get a set of twin sheets from TJ Maxx for less than $19.99. Research brand names before you go. The low thread count sheets from Target are labeled Threshold, and Walmart’s label is Mainstays, so avoid those and go big, though that’s most of what you’ll see. Get some Tahari or Max Studio if you can! You deserve it.

6. Sleeping Bags. They had quite a few, including kids’ ones, mostly featuring Disney themes, for $3.99, whereas the cheap new ones at Toys R Us are $19.99. That seems like a pretty good deal to me, unless your 8-year-old needs to break out the high-end stuff to summit Mt. Everest.

oster_waffle_small7. Specialty Appliances. As I have told you before, you are crazy to buy a cupcake maker new. Perhaps you are crazy to buy one at all, but I’m not prepared to get that judgy. Most of them are cheapish $19.99 things, like mini pizza makers, which sell for $5.99, but there are nicer things like this Oster waffle maker, which went for more.

What to avoid:

Jewelry. It was all really cheap stuff, and by cheap I don’t mean inexpensive. I’m not going to tell you not to buy it, but it’s no great

Anne_KleinAll in all, definitely worth a visit, though Valley Thrift suffers from the classic low-end thrift store habit of overpricing anything that they think is decent (like these new with tags Anne Klein pants for $19.95. Again with the Anne Klein. I don’t get it.)

my_haulI got three books, a jewelry box, and an unopened puzzle for $17.00. And the grammar book, formerly owned by one long gone Edna Gast, had this classic turn-of-the-century phrase written on page 212: “If this book should happen to roam, give it a kick and send it home to Edna.” I think it’s too late for that, but I hope she had a good life full of proper comma usage.

If you know of any great thrift stores that sell antique tools, or are interested in tool restoration, check out Jorge’s You Tube channel and leave a comment.




Link Roundup

There’s a really helpful article at the Atlantic about why consumers make bad decisions when shopping. Avoid these traps whether you’re buying new or used!

I was going to let you guys know about my enthusiasm for Happy Living lettuce, which lasts way longer than regular lettuce because it’s packaged with its root intact. That means less food waste! In my research I have learned that the company who grows it, Go Green Agriculture, recaptures and reuses 100% of its water and is committed to growing their produce locally and sustainably. They’re even more awesome than I knew!

Speaking of saving water in agriculture, I turned on the last ten minutes of Shark Tank last week to see Johnny Georges pitching a device that could save farmers up to 93% of water on their crops. (It was a re-run, so perhaps you’ve already seen it.)  It was a very simple product and he seemed like a great guy. He got his funding, so I hope this thing goes big.

I also learned about The Buy Nothing project, a network of people who give away things to neighbors: “Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow. Keep it legal. Keep it civil. No buying or selling, no trades or bartering, we’re strictly a gift economy.” They have 80,000 members internationally. This Grist article lays out the details. I attempted to join my local group on Facebook, which appears to be closed. I’m not giving up that easy!

On a similar non-consumerist note, my brother sent me a story about a woman in Australia who got rid of almost everything she had before a trip to South America and found it liberating. I read the article and found a link to The Minimalists site, founded by two guys who found their seemingly successful lives, with moneymaking and consuming at the center, unsatisfying. There’s a great article on there about how ‘following your passion’ is crappy, or at least incomplete, advice.

Lastly, if you are here in L.A., there is a repair cafe in Santa Monica this weekend, sponsored by the local Time Bank. They are at the ready to attend to your busted appliances, broken jewelry, or torn clothing. You’d be crazy not to accept such bounty!

Seven Things You Should Never Buy New

Most people would prefer a new thing over its pre-owned equivalent. The reasons for this tendency range from squeamishness to status consciousness to simple habit. You may never have the commitment or the time to comb through craigslist for the perfect end table. I get it. Even if you do not normally dip your toe in the used market, however, if you have even the tiniest inclination towards practicality and frugality, there are some deals too good to pass up. (Please note the prices cited are based on my experience shopping in Los Angeles, and may vary slightly depending on your location.)

basket1. Baskets. You know that time you got a gift basket of muffins/toiletries/specialty mustard and didn’t know what do with the basket itself? That’s what happens to literally everyone. If you’re got a way with wicker, head to your nearest thrift store. There is no sight more common at Goodwill than a row of baskets near the knick-knack area, and they’re never more than a buck apiece.

2. Ties. There is a certain kind of man who is obliged to wear a tie every day to work. There are many more who wear them only grudgingly to weddings and funerals, tearing them from their necks as quickly as decorum allows. Yet even these men regularly receive ties as gifts. These excess ties often make their way to the donation pile, and are almost always priced at $2.99 or $3.99. Available at all thrift stores.

3. Purses. Most women have a single purse they carry around until it is so worn that shame compels them to replace it. Yet many of those same women have half a dozen other purses stuffed in their closet, barely used, rejected based on style or color or other practical considerations, which they eventually surrender to the world at large. Evening bags or purses in unusual colors* are particularly easy to find. I’ve seen them start as low as $2.99. Available at all thrift stores.

4. Specialty appliances. Shaved ice/panini/pasta makers are often used once or not at all. I got my breadmaker at a yard sale for $5.00. Though it had neither the box or the instructions, I was able to track down this information easily online. This was an especially great deal, as they run at least $50 new, but saving between 50% and 75% off retail on a specialty kitchen appliance is easily done. Larger thrift stores have these, as does your local craigslist if you live in a big city. Buying local (as contrasted with ebay) allows you to avoid shipping charges.

5. Dishes. I believe we’re in a golden age of vintage dishes, because dishesolder generations often had regular dishes in addition to “good” dishes, so there are a lot of sets of china left behind once they pass on. I regularly see nice sets of dishes in near-perfect condition selling for less than a dollar per piece, which is a significant savings on even a new acrylic set from Target. Interestingly, I was looking up a set I just saw at the Out of the Closet here in Venice, and I am quite sure I saw the exact set this woman on ebay was trying to sell and must have failed, and donated them. They are currently available for $35.00 unless someone already snapped them up. Virtually every estate sale has these, as do any upscale thrift stores. (My local Salvation Army has a boutique arm that sells beautiful sets regularly. Maybe yours does, too.)

books6. Bestselling books. Are you a Dan Brown or Nicholas Sparks fan? Lucky for you, you’re not the only one. If you’re not obsessed with getting the latest as soon as it hits the bookstore, you can snap them up for a dollar or two in due time.

7. Wedding Dresses. In this era when it’s common for brides to overextend themselves financially to pay for their big day, they’re often looking to recover a little on the back end. That’s where sites like or Tradesy come in. They’re hardly even used — what are the chances she wore it more than once?

*like rodents of unusual size, for all you Princess Bride fans


Thrift Store Review: Savers Thrift Superstore, Lomita

_MG_2379Lomita, California, is known for its railroad museum,  a now-defunct comic book store owned by a professional wrestler, and the closest Savers Thrift to Los Angeles. Sadly, I did not have time to stop by the museum on this trip, and missed the window on the comic book store permanently, but I did have a chance to thoroughly inspect their Savers. It was clean, organized, and massive, though I did not find a lot of exceptional deals there. I’m only rating it as a high as I am because of its comprehensive inventory, which makes up for its other shortcomings. Overall rating: B

In the same way a couple can only be as happy as its least happy member, a thrift store can only be as fancy as its surrounding demographic. Lomita is not an especially wealthy area, and so most of the Savers merchandise comes from low-end department stores. The racks of clothing are chock full of Forever 21, Express, and H&M, and the shoe section is mostly brands like Bandolino, Fioni (available at Payless), and Xhiliration (Target). I will break this concept down in a future post, but it’s simply not worth paying much of anything for used items that are shoddily made and won’t wear well, which is most of what “fast fashion” is. In the used market, you have the additional complication of used items being priced comparably to new items on sale from the same maker. If shoppers realized this, and had both options to choose from side by side, they would be very unlikely to buy used.

For example, there are a number of H&M sleeveless/short sleeve women’s tops which sell for between $4 and $7 new in the clearance section on their site while used versions of these fro_MG_2408m seasons ago are priced at $4.99 at Savers. Similarly, I don’t think anyone would knowingly pay $5.99 for a used pair of shoes from Payless when they knew they could get an equivalent new pair in the sale rack for $10 – $15 unless it was in absolutely pristine condition and there was no comparable new style.

What to buy:

_MG_24051. Specialty kitchen appliances. When I make a complete list of everything you should never buy new, specialty appliances will be at the top of it. Nobody ever runs their pretzel/homemade pasta/ice cream maker into the ground. Savers had a decent-sized appliance section, and I noticed both a pretzel maker and a tea cake maker (which, I have to admit, I considered purchasing) for good prices. I think this pretzel maker was $7.99, though I see you can actually buy a new one for a little more than double that, so it’s not quite the steal I thought it was.

_MG_24572. Vacuums/carpet cleaners. They had models from Eureka and Bissell for $9.99 and $19.99. They had what might have been an old model Eureka Boss Smart Vac, which sells for about $150.00 new. Before you commit to a vacuum cleaner, I urge you to confirm that the bags for the model you want are still available. This can be the downfall of an otherwise great purchase. Also, where possible, in both new and used models, I urge you to find a bagless model. Vacuum cleaners can last a long time, and be easily repaired, so get one you can keep for the long haul.

3. Hair dryers/curling irons. $4.99 and $3.99. I couldn’t find any model of curling iron for less than $15.00 new, and I’m sure some of these are higher quality than others.

_MG_24374. Ties. How many times do I have to tell you? Don’t buy new ties, ever! These were all $3.99. Maybe this hipster safety pin one appeals?

5. Dresses. Maybe it was pure chance, but I saw a few cute Max Studio dresses for $9.99 and $7.99 here, which is a fair price, though they are very easy to find for around $40.00 in every discount chain you can shake a stick at. They look great on everyone and wear very well!

_MG_24546. Uniforms. I have never before seen a uniform section in a thrift store. Scrubs are pretty cheap new, but I’d still way rather spend $1.99 on a pair of scrub pants than $8.99, when I would only be buying them through a cloud of resentment that I had to pay for them myself, anyway. Unless they’re obviously stained, they’re not going to look that great no matter what you do.

_MG_24467. Toys. Savers boasted the least depressing toy section I’ve ever seen in a thrift store, which is kind of like the best performance in the worst movie of the year. Everything looked relatively clean, though I’d be cautious about purchasing toys with a lot of parts missing. I saw a few Bratz _MG_2449styling heads for $7.99 or so, but they didn’t come with all the beauty products they do new, so it’s up to you whether you can make it work without the official styling gel.

It’s also worth checking out their plus-size clothing and kids’ clothes, because those sections were extensive. Certainly kids’ clothes in decent condition seem like a worthwhile endeavor.

What to avoid:

1. Most clothes. See explanation above for their overpricing of mostly low-end labels. In the few instances when Savers had something more upscale on offer, it was no bargain. I saw an _MG_2416Anne Klein pink suit with a jacket with the tags still on, but nonetheless looking like it had sat in someone’s closet for 15 years, for an absurd $119. Why would I ever buy that when I could buy this cute little number at Macy’s right now for $129.99?

_MG_23992. Glasses. Water glasses were $1.99 each. I could get a dozen new ones at Crate and Barrel right now for $19.99, or from Target for $9.99, so I find this pricing pretty outrageous.

3. Decorative items. As usual, these were not competitively priced.

Check out all the photos here.

Thrift Store Review, Mobile Edition: Goodwill, La Jolla

11794567_1055219834518460_1084115068019603493_oIMG_20150802_130119294While my boyfriend and I were visiting San Diego this weekend for a falconry lesson, I stopped in at a Goodwill in La Jolla for a little field research. Since a posh city usually means a posh thrift store, I had high hopes for it. Overall, it was IMG_20150802_130135398_HDRwell worth a visit, and I give them especially high marks for presentation.   Overall rating: B

What to buy:

1. Jewelry. All their jewelry was tucked away behind glass cases, which was inconvenient as well as mysterious, since it was almost entirely composed of plastic. However, it was reasonably priced, ranging from $1 to $3, so it’s worth a look if you’re in the market.

2. Clothes. Each item was priced individually, which I always prefer, but the 4-way combopricing did not always take labels into account. Thus, Arizona jeans from JC Penney were $6.99, when you can easily get new ones for a $20 on sale, and yet the Tahari dress was a mere $7.99 — good luck getting a new dress from them for under $200. (It didn’t look super recent, but still.) Similarly, this wrinkled Banana Republic shirt could be yours for $4.99, while this Ted shirts onlyBaker dress shirt could be rocking the world of you and those around you for a mere dollar more.

3. Scarves. Like ties, scarves are a great item to purchase used, because they are typically in excellent condition from infrequent wearing. They had an IMG_20150802_130956775attractive display of scarves priced at $2.99 and $3.99. It’s hard to get any new scarf for less than $15.00, and some of these were from nice makers. If you get a long one, learn from your predecessors.

Things to avoid:

1. Shoes. There are probably a few gems in here, but once I see a pair of used Steve Madden heels at $9.99, you’ve lost me.IMG_20150802_130847289_HDR

2. Decorative items. Places like World Market and Pier One base their entire business on your perceived need to fill your house with useless crap. The vases, statues, and ornaments of the world rarely seem dated, and are always available in the sale rack of any CVS, TJ Maxx or Cost Plus, so use caution when turning to a thrift store for your decorating needs. It’s not at all unusual to see an item like this glass vase priced at $.99 at a thrift store and turn it over (as I IMG_20150802_132338979did in this instance) to see the original price tag of $2.00. Sometimes I’ve actually seen the original store tag be cheaper than the thrift store price.

A comparable version of this nutcracker, priced at IMG_20150802_132324077$4.99 here, is available right now for $10.50, and when they all go on sale right after Christmas, it will be a lot cheaper than that, believe you me.

Similarly, this Lenox China Gilded Garden basket, while very nice quality, was priced at $49.99, while a comparable new one I found is going for $53.99.IMG_20150802_132834227_HDR

All in all: walk, don’t run. P.S. If you’d like to learn how to hunt jackrabbit with a bird of prey or simply have it land gently on your leather-gloved arm, get in touch with Sky Falconry.

View the photo album of this Goodwill here.