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August 17th is National Thrift Shop Day

Deanna Dahslad

August 17 is National Thrift Shop Day – read on for tips from collector Deanna Dahlsad on how to find hidden treasures at your local thrift store.

National Thrift Shop Day: a day to promote the ethical and economic opportunities of shopping at thrift stores. Why should collectors care? Because among the common secondhand goods, lie the uncommon treasures.

National Thrift Shop Day

A terrier figurine among some china might catch your attention in a thrift shop!

While you may not find a Picasso, a Pollock, or a prehistoric pottery piece, I can assure you that you can find affordable treasures for your own collection. How do I know? Because as a collector and a dealer, I find them. And nearly on every thrift shop visit, too.

In fact, many items a collector purchases came into their possession after having been at a thrift store a time or two. Not only do dealers regularly hunt for items at thrift stores, but quite often inventory that hasn’t sold, no matter where the dealer got their hands on it originally, winds up donated to a thrift shop. …And then another dealer might buy it and try their own luck. Even if this dealer sells it to a collector, time passes and downsizing, death, etc. may mean items are once again donated. And so the cycle continues.

If you want to find thrifty bargains in antiques and collectibles, head to your local thrift stores armed with these tips:

Thrift shops are a lot like antique shops. There are too many unique items for sale for shop help to know what is or isn’t there at any given moment. That means you’ll have to do the looking.

As items sell, other items replace them — but not like it happens at WalMart. For example, when there’s room on the wall for another piece of art, another picture is hung; but it isn’t going to be just like the other one that sold. This means you need to visit often so you can spot the gems before someone else does.

Like many antique shops, all sales at thrift shops are final. This means you need to inspect items carefully before you buy them. (See Harry Rinker’s recent post on inspecting collectibles for tips.)

Most thrift shops now have expert help. Even if they do not have a dealer who volunteers to help identify more valuable items, Internet access makes quick research more possible. This results in many of the antiques, vintage items, and collectibles being cherry-picked and placed in designated areas. These areas are usually near the wrap desk, quite often under the lock and key of display cases or otherwise secured.

Yes, these items will have prices higher than your typical used goods. And, yes, the prices on these items has increased quite a bit in recent years — resulting in many dealers I know to cry, “Thrift shops are destroying the natural order of things! Dealers are supposed to find the cheap deals at thrift shops to profit off of!” But I say that’s OK. Most thrift shops are there to raise funds for their charity, so they ought to make the most of their donations. Plus…

Even when a thrift shop has help identifying the more valuable items, they will miss things because no one can know everything about everything. (Even with the Internet!) This is why people still discover valuable artwork and artifacts at thrift stores. And why dealers still go there to pick. So don’t only check the store’s special areas; check out the whole shop and see what you can spot that they missed.

National Thrift Shop Day horse art

“When there’s room on the wall for another piece of art, another picture is hung, but it won’t be exactly the same,” notes Deanna. This golden horse piece could make a great thrift shop find.

Observe how your local thrift store works. Many people will advise that you go shopping at the thrift stores on Mondays and Tuesdays because they believe most donations are made on weekends and staff won’t put the new goods out until the start of the workweek. However much sense that may make, many thrift stores are continually sorting, pricing, and stocking the sales floor, not matter what day it is. That is not to say that items donated on a Saturday are put out that same day, or even that month; the volume of donations, staffing, store size, etc. dictates how fast merchandise makes it to the sales floor. But each store will have its own rhythm and after a few visits you may be able to figure out which days seems to be the biggest boon for your area of collecting.

Some thrift stores only put holiday and seasonal items out on the sales floor during that season. One of my local thrift shops only puts vintage clothing out for sale at Halloween. (As if!) If you don’t see items in your category of collecting, ask about it and see if there isn’t a schedule you should be aware of.

Thrift stores are family friendly. That means you and your family can go shopping at the thrift store together, even if each of you has different interests. (It’s a great way to get kids interested in collecting!)

The down side to this is that if you collect art nudes, vintage men’s magazines, breweriana, etc., you may not find any such things at your local thrift shops, even if they are donated. (However, clever collectors should ask about such items because I know a few lucky ducks who were able to get on lists to be contacted when such items were donated — and they get great deals without having to outsmart any competition!)

Bring cash. Not all thrift stores accept credit or debit cards, or even checks. And those that do may only do so on purchases over a set amount. Bringing cash makes cents, err, sense.

Ask about discounts. Many thrift stores have specials and sales, including frequent buyer programs, calendars with special sales dates (50% off books on Mondays, for example), and even discount coupons. Be sure to stop and ask what programs your local thrift store has to offer.

Do you regularly visit thrift shops to buy collectibles? What’s the coolest piece you’ve ever found? Leave a comment with your answer below.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jose Ramirez #

    I found an Ed hardy t shirt for like $3! Ed hardy t shirts usually go for retail at $50-$90.

    August 16, 2013

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  1. August 17th is National Thrift Shop Day | Inherited Values

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