My Top Ten Thrift Store Finds

Vintage Shops and Thrift Stores Lead to Treasure

thrift store finds thrift shoppingBy Mary Elizabeth Williams-Villano, LuxEco Editorial Assistant and author of the Resplendent Repurposing series
Every veteran urban consumer archeologist has their list of Amazing Finds that they can tell you about. Not only can they tell you about them, they’re dying to tell you about them. In fact, just try and get them to shut up about the subject. They’ll tell you exactly where they found the stuff and how much — I mean, how little — they paid for it all. (This is called Reverse Bragging Rights, and it’s a big part of the Resplendent Repurposing lifestyle.)
Here’s my list of all-time favorite treasures hunted in the thrift store. They range from cool home decor and collectible items to clothing, accessories and just plain silliness — all of which might have ended up in landfills if someone hadn’t donated them instead of chucking them into a dumpster. Paring the list down to just ten items was the hard part. I’ve also found consumer electronics, cookware, Italian shoes, jewelry, crystal, furniture and many, many other goodies. I share it in the hope it will light a fire under you to go to your local thrift store and see what you might unearth. Here goes:

My Top Ten Most Amazing Thrift Store Finds of All Time (so far):

#10 Thrift Store Find: A retro 1960s or 1970s psychedelic op-art motorized wall thingee in an orange plastic frame. It consists of two identical op-art pictures. One rotates over the other, giving your eyes a hypnotic vision of…what, I’m not exactly sure, but I think it’s something the Doors sang about. I

thrift store shopping for finds

#10 Thrift Store Find: A retro 1960s or 1970s psychedelic op-art

just love this stupid thing. I don’t know what to call it, but it has a place of honor over the mantel in our burnt-orange living room, and we turn it on nightly. What it’s doing to us, time alone will tell. Found at National Council of Jewish Women Thrift in Van Nuys. $10.00.

#9 Thrift Store Find: A cloisonne bowl complete with stand featured in that years’ Smithsonian gift catalog for $60.00: $15.00 at Out of the The Closet Thrift Store in North Hollywood (that location is now closed). When I saw this bowl, it jumped right out at me — I had just seen it in my copy of the aforementioned catalog! Obviously, someone donated a gift they didn’t care for, and the real beneficiary was me.

#8 Thrift Store Find: A large Mexican folk art “Tree of Life” candelabra that sells for $75.00 to $100.00 or more at stores like The Folk Tree in Pasadena: $7.50 at Goodwill Thrift Store in Van Nuys. These are made from unglazed, single-fire ceramics and are about as fragile as dog biscuits. Amazing that this one survived the donation process, not to mention being displayed at the store and grappled by tiny, unsupervised hands. We were obviously meant for each other.

#7 Thrift Store Find: An inlaid, carved Sheshamwood mini-cabinet, $20.00 at the Goodwill on Santa Monica Boulevard at Stoner Avenue. I don’t know what the original price was, but I’ve seen similar ones for much, much more than I paid.

thrift store finds thrift shopping

#9 Thrift Store Find: A cloisonne bowl

#6 Thrift Store Find: A carved leather bag, probably from Mexico, made anywhere from the Forties to the Seventies. Yes, there are a lot of these bags still around, and I have several. But have you ever had the experience of seeing something in a store that just called out to you to buy it — had your name on it, so to speak? Well, this purse did. Literally: “Mary” carved deep into dark brown dyed cowhide. Saw it in the window of a great Salvation Army Thrift Store store in Carmichael, CA (now closed, unfortunately) and I ran in and snagged it before some other Mary could. $20.00. Who knows what the original price was…and who cares?

#5 Thrift Store Find: A genuine Coach leather bag, in perfect condition, in the “British Tan” color that I like: $40.00 at the Salvation Army in Van Nuys. I’m not a big name-brand-bag girl because I find most of them ugly, boring, conformist and overpriced (somebody’s initials in beige or gray canvas for $400.00 and up? Bleccchhh!) but this one was a must-buy. They don’t currently have my bag in their “Coach Originals” (the classic styles) collection, but a similar one is priced at $288.00 on the official Coach website.

thrift store finds thrift shopping

#3 Thrift Store Find: Rhinestone Belt

#4 Thrift Store Find: A black leather unisex blazer from the Gap that I get tons of use out of: $20.00 at Goodwill in Van Nuys. Someone recently told me he owns the identical blazer. He paid $300.00 for it. Helped me look appropriately urban on a recent trip to NYC.

#3 Thrift Store Find: A truly spectacular high-glam rhinestone belt (that actually fits my size-12 waist): $25.00 at a “Best of the Best” sale at National Council of Jewish Women Thrift, Canoga Park. I’ve seen ones like this retail for over $100, and I’ve coveted one for years. This one was perfect, well-made with no missing stones.

#2 Thrift Store Find: The many, many, luxurious beaded and sequined sweaters and tops I’ve purchased over the years, mainly at National Council of Jewish Women Thrift Stores. One day I walked into the Van Nuys store and there on the “Just Arrived” rack were four brand-new velvety soft, jewel-toned knit Alberto Makali tops with the tags still on. These retail at Nordstrom for around $200.00. I paid $12 to $15 apiece for them.

And My #1 Thrift Store Find of All Time (so far):

#1: A vintage, five-foot aluminum Christmas tree, purchased in 1983: $7.00 at United Cerebral Palsy Thrift on Alhambra Boulevard in Sacramento, CA (that location is long gone). Original price? Nowadays, retro aluminum trees like this are pricey — you probably can’t get one under $100.00. And just think of all the money (and trees!) I’ve saved over the years not buying dying evergreens. I let my vintage color wheel (a $20.00 flea market find), play its primary colors across it as I dream of a Sixties Christmas past, where I patiently waited for Santa to fetch that coveted Easy-Bake oven. Which never came, because Santa — I mean Mom — refused to spend good money for a metal box with a light bulb in it.

This find is #1 because it still saves me scratch every year and continues to up my Green cred. No tree killer, I! Here’s a picture of my tinselly friend in its place of honor last Xmas, tarted up in its holiday best.

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#1 Thrift Store Find: Aluminium Christmas Tree

Can’t wait to dazzle (or bore) your friends with stories like these? The adventure awaits at your nearest thrift store. You never know what you’ll find — and that’s the thrill of it. Warning: This behavior is addictive. Once you mainline that incredible first find, you’ll be hooked for life. It happened to me, it’ll happen to you. They haven’t yet done an “excessive thrifting” intervention on A and E’s Intervention, but just give it time. Oh, wait — that show’s called Hoarders.

See you at Out of the Closet!


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For More Help with Thrift Stores, Vintage Shops, Thrift Store Finds please visit Resplendent Repurposing

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Article by Mary Villano

Mary Elizabeth Williams-Villano doesn’t know how to describe herself and her spotty employment record. She’s been a radio DJ and talk show host, a magazine editor and a TV comedy writer. Her credits include the first three seasons of MAD TV (the funny years!) sixteen episodes of a cartoon called Aaah! Real Monsters!, the second season of Culture Clash’s sketch comedy show, and her first big break, the fifth, final (and unfortunately Wayans-free) season of In Living Color. She was also a co-writer of Denis Leary’s Merry Freakin’ Christmas special, in addition to dozens of other clay animation films she wrote or co-wrote with Spencer Green for Corky Quakenbush’s Space Bass Films. (You can catch her dark, perverse sense of humor on YouTube: Watch Davey and Son of Goliath or Raging Rudolph from her MAD TV days.) Mary can be found at the thrift store at least once a week, mumbling to herself and scoring amazing finds, not only in shoes and clothing but in stuff for the home -- finds that she’ll be sharing with LuxEcoLiving’s readers. Other, nerdier interests include scanning police and fire frequencies, amateur radio (call sign KI6OMJ) and trying to find spy numbers stations on shortwave. She also makes beaded jewelry. Mary shares a happy home in the charming little Dutch community of Van Nuys (that’s Lake Balboa to you!) with Mike, her hubby of thirteen years, four cats and numerous collections: Costume jewelry, purses, compacts, tiaras, floaty pens, vintage metal signs, tin-litho noisemakers, glassware, Kennedyana, bad taste/kitsch/politically incorrect items, vintage Christmas stuff and other odd bits of detritus too numerous to mention. Oh, and cat hair. Lots of it. Her goals in life include trying desperately to crank out novels and screenplays (like everyone else in L.A.!), not gaining weight and staying off A and E’s Hoarders. Mary Villano tagged this post with: , , , , , Read 8 articles by
One Comments Post a Comment
  1. rick dikes says:

    I just started a “group” on facebook called “inspector unexpected” not an hour before I ran across your site.
    its labeled as a “braggers site”. and I planned on giving out “brag”
    like I said its only an hour old so I typed,” best thrift store finds”.
    and I instantly seen reverse bragging rights when you popped up..
    told my members at the end of the month whom ever either found the best deal….or the most valueable find would have bragging rights till the next month.
    I read on and one of the first things you mentioned was landfills.
    that’s the first thing I said.
    the joy is finding the unexpected you know that. and im the inspector that chooses the winner of bragging rights.
    hence inspector unexpected.i was trying to be clever ,to draw people there ….but I see im not as clever or “original” as I thought. I would love it if you could post a few of your finds on my page ?
    it would be an honor to have you on.

    Rick Dikes..facebook group INSPECTOR UNEXPECTED..G-MAIL or hell just friend me…………..chow !

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