A Conversation Between Two Professional Thrift Shoppers
"The Scale (of Operations)"
“I want to cover two aspects with you now. First I want to talk with you about clothes and buying clothes at thrift stores. We’ve talked a lot about that together and our conclusions, procedures and feelings are pretty well understood by us. They’re easy for a reader to understand too.
“The second aspect is what I’ll call ‘scale’; the size of what we do. What we do is buy antiques and art at thrift stores. What most people don’t understand and do not recognize... is how BIG this ‘what we do’ is. I want to talk about this; that... the scale of our operations. Respectively. We both run our own businesses doing this. It’s very rare for us to actually do business with each other. Right?
“Absolutely right. I think all we’ve ever done is just TALK with each other ABOUT doing this (shopping at thrift stores)”.
“Ok... so first... CLOTHES: You buy very little clothing. I buy even less.”
“Yet... that’s what thrift stores have the most of; clothes, clothes for sale and people buying clothes. Giant racks and mounds of it; clothes. So... the thrift stores are full of clothes and people buying clothes. And what we want; the antiques and art, are for sale off to the side in little nooks and crannies. Generally they’re not the feature of the store. Clothes are the feature. Why, then, do you... well, WE... buy almost no clothes? We both DO look at the clothes but I rarely even touch a piece of clothing. I know you touch some but... not much.”
“Less than ever. I don’t need any clothes first off; clothes to wear. I have great clothes from years of thrifting. And... MOST of the clothes for sale in thrifts; ninety-eight percent, are not very good quality. Or if they are good quality, by some fluke, they’re expensive; they charge more. And... I don’t resell clothes because clothes have to FIT the buyer and that kills (restricts) the market. The ‘big butt’ factor I call it. A lot of the best clothes are too small for the big butt set. Of course, I WILL say here that IF your not big butt set you can do real well for clothes. Quality clothes too. Just take your time; your gonna get it (good high quality clothes very inexpensively). From there (this small sizes understanding) it’s down hill to Hell. I see most thrift store shoppers buying tons of bad clothes. That’s what I see all the time; clothes buyers buying crap clothes. Then they, like, look around for a minute and leave. You know what that means? It means that the vast majority of thrift store shoppers are not even slightly thinking slightly of competing with me, or you, on the antiques. They’re not even slightly there for that. That alone thins out the competition in the stores WAY beyond what most people would realize. For me it creates a ‘no one is there’ state. That’s how I notice someone like you. I notice someone doing anything else besides shopping for clothes. Buying books and CD-movie stuff is next for ‘people doing that’ in thrift stores. Your, like, the only one I ever met whose looking for art, actually doing that and ACTUALLY KNOWS that; knows about art and hunting it in thrift stores.”
“You mean you got trouble?”
“With you it’s more than trouble; it’s WAY beyond that. I mean: When your done the place is STRIPPED and HALF of it I didn’t even know about myself.”
“Ok so back to clothes. We don’t buy that. BUT we DO LOOK.”
“Right; always look.”
“And we do get real good hits (great clothing buys) that way. I mean... I get like... maybe.... six shirts a year; you know; vintage USA Brooks Brothers”.
“And you never touch the rack.”
“Just scan the collars”
“It’s so cool the way you do that. I think of that all the time when my hand goes out. I pull the racks to look. You just see the collars. I mean... I do that with shoes. A whole isle in a glance. Most clothes too. I don’t touch that stuff unless I have to. WHY? Takes time. Right?
“Right. I do (examine) clothes FAST. By eye. The good stuff stands right out. And I don’t mean BEANS, Eddy and the rest of that phony Chinese rack rot. I mean good stuff. Great Britain. Hundreds of dollars stuff.”
“Name one (give an example).”
“Well... like that Barbour Border Jacket last week. WAY at the end of the suit rack. WAY at the end. Like...: It’s SUMMER so, like, whose gonna buy a lined English field jacket. And, like... who HAS ONE anyway. To donate. LIKE? IN MAINE? So the guy must have been ‘MOVED HERE’. Bought that BACK THERE to MOVE HERE. You know; on the ocean. And like... wore it once. Maybe. And then DIED. So they (wife, kids; family) clean out his closet and hatchback drop (take the contents in the car to donate to the thrift store) the whole load off at a (local thrift store) back door and THEY’VE (volunteers at the thrift store) NEVER even seen Barbour so ‘rack it’ (put it out for sale) at twelve ($12.00). I see it way at the end of the (men’s sports jacket) rack and was, like, ‘THANK YOU’.
“And that’s, like, the only jacket you’ve bought this year.”
“Oh EASY. Over a year. Except for vintage ‘Maine hunter’ (sporting). I do an endless trade in that crud. USA. Sears. Woolrich. You know; camp blankets. But... I can spot that stuff on a rack across the whole room.”
“So can I. It’s funny where the best of that turns up.”
“Working class thrifts; ‘plowed under’ (meaning that generally at such thrift stores the clothing offered is cheap quality, old, worn and ‘should be plowed under’). ”
“Anyway... we buy very little clothing but what we get is grade triple A crisp.”
“Crisp; that’s the word. No limp clothing. Except for decorators (the decorator market). They buy the ‘smells like a moose’ stuff. Ha, ha.”
“Ok...: So now what we’ve done is get rid of most of the floor space in a thrift store as being of no consideration to us because it’s filled with clothes for sale. When we go in, cowboy down, we’re off to their nooks and crannies. So let’s turn to scale. If we’re buying only antiques and art and that’s a very small part of thrift store stock, like, how’s that work out for us? Huh? Well lets just open this right up. First off, we’re buying a real lot of different types of antiques and art. We’re not just ‘looking for one thing’. I mean... WE are in outer space buying the galaxy when it comes to antiques and art. That has to be understood; the VAST variety (of art and design) we ‘buy’.
“And your, like, WAY past me in what you buy but I’m BURIED in just what I’VE bought. People do not realize the amount of variety at all. They still think we buy what THEY like. I mean; get over it.”
“Right. So... that still is only a small amount of what is in a thrift store for sale so WE have to greatly expand what. THE NUMBER OF THRIFT STORES we cover (go to regularly). Hold on to your hat here we go. You tell ‘em.”
“No. You tell ‘em. I mean... your nuts.”
“Well... just how many ...STATES... do YOU go through. Tell ‘em that. How many states did you go through LAST WEEK doing this. And that’s a SEVEN DAY week, Sweeties. That gets rid of ‘em right there huh.”
“Well. Really: I was in seven states (New England to NYC and back ...by different routes and on NO HIGHWAYS ever).”
“And that’s a regular route for you; you didn’t need a map.”
“Oh yeah; same old same old. Nothing new. Just covering that trail.”
“And... how many (thrift) shops a day?
Oh my God... well... you know the rules.”
“Right. So a fantasy goal to us is, like, TWENTY (thrift) stores a day.”
“And we never make it.”
“So... like... TEN is pretty good. And on a good day SIX. Meaning... the better a good day the LESS thrift stores we go to. Right? Why’s that.”
“Well if you DON’T buy anything then your in and out of a thrift store quick so if you DO buy something; antiques and art, it takes more time at each shop to check out, pay, load the stuff, especially if a (thrift) store happens to have a lot that day”.
“I call that (having a lot) ‘a nest’. A nest is a larger donation that happens to have a lot of antiques and art in it that has all been put out for sale. A ‘Nesting’ of ‘good stuff’ in thrift stores is a major ‘take notice of’. I see this when I scan (first come into a thrift store). Anyway; the more you buy the longer it takes and the less stores we can get to that day.”
“So that’s actually good. And the car is getting full too. Ha, ha; what about THAT.
Here’s where the ‘your gonna do this?’ starts to get... I’ll call it ‘challenging’.”
“You mean your two days out on this (road trip) and the car is already full and you’ve got four more days of this and... what do you do? Is this REAL!”
“It’s real alright.”
“Now right here, at this full car moment, I remind the reader that both of us have been doing this for between twenty-five and thirty-five years full time. That means, for me, I am at retirement age. I pick (buy antiques and art at) thrift shops a lot differently now. First, I’m older and have scaled back my operations of buying and selling. Secondly, the thrift store marketplace has been altered by the internet.
“Twenty-five years ago we had two warehouses in Westchester County (NY) to hold our thrift shop found hoard. That’s right; two warehouse storage spaces; big ones. At that time there were very few dealers shopping in the thrift shops and no one from New England picking the New York metroplex. There was no internet that both the thrift shops and the thrift shop shoppers could use to ‘look up’ or ‘price’ the stuff.
That all changed with the access to the internet for commercial antiques and art information. That change happened fast. The specific effect on me has been for me to have to be more selective in the substantive base value of the art and antiques I buy in thrift shops. I buy what I call ‘known quality’ items. Before I could buy trucks loads of everything and sell it all wholesale in its respective markets (collectors, decorators, antiques shops, used books, fine art galleries). Now I ‘cherry pick’ (buy only the best, rarest and most profitable art and antiques). This is due to the contractions of the lesser markets mixed with the impact of the internet upon the marketing of that lesser material. In shortest description, one may now ‘get’ most antiques and art any time they want. One may ‘go on line’ and ‘put in shopping cart’ a very large amount of art and antiques. I seek only the truly rare. This market is still just as firm and fine as it always has been. These items ARE, in fact, truly good and truly rare. So... I still buy exactly the way I have always done in the thrift store but I just buy the best. I leave a lot behind that once I would have bought. I don’t need warehouses anymore. Good things sell themselves very fast in the current art and antiques market place. I know what good antiques and art are. That is the key point of my selections. I know I CAN find that high quality in the thrift stores. It is the LARGE amount of ‘stock’ merchandise that I have now excluded from my purchases. I...: I leave that for you. I’m not kidding about that. In past decades I took it all. Now only the best... and leave the rest. YOU buy trucks and rent warehouses. It’s your turn now.”
“Yes... but what about me in my car. I think your getting away from them (the readers). They don’t get this. What you just said is real but they don’t get it. Warehouses full of antiques and art you bought at thrift stores? They can’t get a grip on that. But, you know, ME. I’m, like, stuck in western Masshole; you know, Pittsfield, with full car. Like what do I do. AND I tell you I DO have a warehouse in Westchester myself. But I’m, like, a whole day away. So what do I do.”
“What do we BOTH do!”
“We ABANDON some stuff. Like... FOR REAL. I mean... we’re already AT a thrift store and we have full car load and we just bought a, like, great Victorian ladies writing desk for like sixty bucks and we... ‘CAN’T FIT IT’ so... we... take something OUT of the load and DONATE that to the thrift shop to ‘make space’. Like... LAMPS or, you know, THAT STUFF; the real ‘space takers’ that are profitable but not THAT profitable. There you go. TRY IT. I have to do it all the time. It’s the most cost effective solution especially when a real antique is at stake. You don’t buy a real antique in a thrift store, pay for it and leave it there. You’ll start a riot and the place will be all over you when you come back to pick it up (other people will have tried to buy the item and hassled the volunteers about it). GET IT OUT OF THERE. So DONATE some stuff to make room. That’s how we do it!”
“It does work. And the funniest thing is you ARE actually at a thrift store. It’s not like you have to drive around looking for one. When you start abandoning stuff you just bought not only are you really doing this (picking thrift stores) but your getting a pretty good idea of what we’re calling the ‘scale’ of doing this; thrift store hopping (shopping). You know; six days, six states... and when you get back your car is FULL.