Every time we go to Kalamazoo, we get sucked in by the breweries and bypass the thrift stores. Not this time. I looked up all the thrift stores in the area on Google Maps and clicked “avoid highways,” becasue that’s how we like to travel.
We started out at a Salvation Army Family Store where I scooped up a twin size vintage sheet, among a few other treasures. It’s fitted, so I’ll have to cut the elastic out of it before I can use the fabric. I knew it was old when I tugged on the elastic, and it crunched. Busted elastic may make other buyers shy away, but since I am just harvesting the fabric, I scored some serious yardage.
I also found the most amazing vintage beach towel I have ever seen. I think I can make about six messenger bags out of the terry cloth. The sail boats absolutely kill me.
I found another Salvation Army just down the road in Portage, MI. Judging from the photos online, this joint was massive. And it was. After perusing the neckties, I went through the “boudoir” section and headed for the linens. They had a ton of fabric that was sorted nicely, but none of it appealed to me. I’m very particular about the type of fabric I buy these days. Not by choice. I just don’t have any more space to store mediocre polyester. Make no mistake. I can always find a spot to squirrel away some premium fabrics.
The three racks behind the fabric had some awesome sheets and pillowcases. I turned up a Monticello by Cannon floral flat sheet and a few pillow cases made by Penn-Prest, Sears, and Springmaid.
It was right about this time that I saw a sheet pattern that I recognized. A while back, I bought a Cannon Royal Family Featherlite bed spread from the Kalamazoo Antiques Market for $8 that I planned to use for fabric. When I got home and discovered that while the sizing was for a full size mattress, it fit our queen size bed well enough and I decided not to cut it up. Today, a matching queen size flat sheet was hanging on the rack at the Sal. Coincidence or fate? I can’t wait to bust out this 1970s sheet/bedspread combo when the weather warms up.
The half-off color was yellow. I looked down at my findings and saw a few yellow tags, including the sheet that partially completes our springtime bed set. Yes. That’s the sugar.
We decided to test out a few Goodwill Stores, which as you might already know, can be hit or miss on vintage merchandise. Sometimes, I suspect there are people within the organization who don’t see any value in old clothing, fabric, or linens and cast it aside. But in reality, I have no idea what their sorting standards are like. We did find a few vintage neckties for $1.19 each at one Goodwill, while another location was a total bust.
My intuition was telling me that our luck was running out. There’s only so much gold you can dig up in one day. We decided to hit the NuWay Thrift Store on Cork Street as our last stop. The interior of the store is really dark, and the prices are fairly high. As a result, they have tons of stuff that appears as if it has been hanging around for a while. I am more than willing to dig through piles of clothing and fabric if I think I can come up with something for a good price, but this isn’t my first thrift store rodeo. I can sniff out a low-turnover hoard of mediocre goods in an instant. It wasn’t all bad. I managed to unearth two pieces of pretty cool polyester knit among the fabric. It was finally time to split and drink a celebratory beer at Bell’s Brewery.
You already know about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. This post is about Thrift Store Tuesday, which doesn’t just come around once a year. Good news, friends! You can take advantage of the Volunteers of America 50% off sale on the last Tuesday of every month. On a normal business day, the VoA thrift stores are brimming with bargains. However, this monthly sale has a special place in my heart. Ask anyone who knows me. I live for this stuff.
The grand plan was to hit three of the four grocery store-sized thrift stores in mid-Michigan. I’ll get you next time, Burton location. I decided to start in Corunna, a half-hour drive from Lansing. I arrived about 20 minutes before the store opened. The morning was just cold enough for steam to rise from the tailpipes of about 30 idling cars. I saw a few women milling about near the entrance, so I hopped out of the truck, walked over and sparked up a conversation. They immediately told me to knock of the door and get a number for a cart. I definitely would be needing a cart. I tapped on the glass door, and a nice woman passed me the number 31 written on a sticky note. The last time I dropped in on the Corunna store on half-off day, I arrived after the store was open and the cart inventory was wiped out. Of course, I hit the used merchandise lottery and was forced to drag three 25-lb. sacks of fabric around behind me with additional clothing items thrown over my shoulder. Like a beacon in the night, I spied an abandoned cart in the center aisle. I asked around to verify that no other shoppers had laid claim to the cart. I unburdened my load only to discover that the front wheel was seized, so I drove the cart around the store in pop-a-wheelie mode until it was time to check out. Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.
I was so excited about starting this half-price Tuesday in Corunna. I consistently find giant plastic bags stuffed with vintage fabric, scads of ugly 1970s neckties and other various vintage items. This time, I found several two-tone vintage towels that I plan to upcycle. I also scooped up another grab bag mystery fabric, a few hideously ugly neckties and a couple vintage pillowcases. Normally, I resist the urge to peruse the bric-a-brac. But this time, the Christmas decorations sucked me in. I spied a lonely plastic popcorn donkey perched on top of a pile of decorations and I felt like he needed a good home. There’s nothing particularly Christmas-themed about him, but between the cashier and I, we deduced that he was most definitely a Christmas donkey. The grand total for a pile of vintage textiles, a giant bag stuffed with fabric, a few ugly neckties and a Christmas donkey came to a grand total of $13 and some change. Feeling triumphant, I threw the sack of goods over my shoulder and passed my cart off to another bargain shopper on my way out the door. It was time to head back into Lansing and see what the Saginaw Street store had waiting for me.
I rolled out of the small town of Corunna, drove past several farms, hooked a left on a two-lane road and jumped back on I-69. When I reached the Volunteers of America on the corner of Saginaw and Waverly, I discovered a jam-packed parking and people trolling the front of the lot for a good parking spot. I parked in the back of the lot and hiked in.
I wondered if any “good stuff” was left, but then I remembered that few people are looking for old textiles and ugly neckties. I headed straight for the necktie stash and snagged two clip-on ties. I used to pass on clip-on ties, but then I realized that the ends make great pockets. Plus, one of the ties had pheasants on it, so that was a no-brainer. This trip I was mostly staying on the periphery in order to avoid the frenzy I witnessed up and down the clothing aisles. However, I did pluck out two Joyce Sportswear polyester blazers that stood out from the pack. One was last worn on December of 1991 as evidenced by the unused $20 gift certificate for a now defunct East Lansing restaurant named Pistachio’s. I bet David and Denise would be devastated if they knew that Carolyn and Wally never enjoyed their free meal. I also found a new old stock maxi skirt from Woolco for 50 cents, which I’m pretty happy about. I did resist the magnetic pull of the bric-a-brac section. I just repeat to myself, “Stay out of the bricky section. Stay. Out.” I love you, bric-a-brac, but I can’t take any more of you into my home.
green striped blazer
As I approached the long checkout line, I spied a dishwasher crammed between two other appliances. When we moved into our duplex in August, the landlord pointed to the decades-old dishwasher in our kitchen and said, “The dishwasher doesn’t work. And that’s just the way it is.” Well, this gently used dishwasher was $10.01 after the 50% discount, so I plan to install it later this week. And that’s just the way it’s going to be. The last place we lived in had a broken dishwasher in need of a new circuit board. On a half-off day at the Saginaw VoA about three years ago, I bought the exact model of dishwasher as the broken one for eight bucks. I harvested the circuit board I needed and passed off the rest of the appliance to a friend who turned it in for scrap. So the Saginaw Volunteers of America is truly my discount dishwasher headquarters. I stood in line chatting with other bargain hunters while occasionally popping over to look at the linens section. I found another vintage towel and a sheet set, which I threw over my cramped arm. I really don’t mind standing in a long line at the thrift store on half off day. I almost always end up talking to other people about the cool things they found and what they are going to do with them. Plus, the VoA really has their act together for these monthly events. That line moves. So don’t be discouraged by its length. You’ll be at the register and out the door in no time. The grand total at this location was $17 and change – including the dishwasher.
The third and final location I visited was the Cedar Street store at about 11 a.m. This location has few different rooms. I suggest you do not bypass the linens room. There are always a few gems hiding in there waiting to be discovered. After scooping up a couple things in the linens area, I hit the necktie rack over in the men’s section and found five excellent examples of tacky of 1970s neckwear. I scanned the other sections of the store and jumped in line. The grand total at the last stop was $6 and change. It was time to get some lunch and survey all my goods. I have big plans for a lot of this stuff, so check back at my Etsy shop to see what I made with all the great stuff I found.
The cab of my truck was loaded down with merchandise and I was beginning to wonder where I was going to stash all my new finds. Every time I go on these second-hand sprees I find so many wonderful things it’s hard to leave anything behind. My left brain begs me to be selective, while my right brain whispers, “But you could make something really cool out of that!” The right side usually wins the argument and I return home with bags and bags of stuff. And that’s OK. Every time I buy something from the thrift store, I am keeping it from laying in a landfill. Plus, my money is going to help fellow humans. For more info about how the Volunteers of America make a positive impact on the communities we live in, click here. Makes me wish I would have splurged on some of that bric-a-brac. Maybe next time.
I cannot conclude this post without extending a great big thank you to all of the staff at the mid-Michigan Volunteers of America thrift stores – especially Amanda, who took time out of her day to show me around and allow me to take photos inside the stores. I had the time of my life! If you have never experienced the 50% off sale, or the VoA thrift stores in general, I suggest you head down to one and see what you can find! Please see the photos below to check out what else I found.
I nearly forgot about the annual rummage sale at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Lansing. However, I just happened to have the day off and just happened to be in the area around 9 a.m. when the doors opened.
The only occasion I will stand in a line to get my hands on retail goods is when those goods are second-hand. I stood in line outside the recreation hall with about 40 other folks who showed up with empty boxes and bags to fill with used merchandise. I even saw a guy with his own wheeled cart. That dude meant business. I chatted with a lady in line while trying to conceal my excitement. I didn’t want her to discover that I was a total freak when it came to vintage merchandise. I sized up the scene and I was fairly confident that very few of the people who were standing in that line were looking for the same kind of stuff I was. While I was searching out an estate sale on Craigslist to hit after the rummage sale, the line began to move and we all entered the building in and orderly fashion to begin the hunt.
One woman working the sale told me that it took more than a week to price and organize everything. The people working this sale really had it together. The merchandise was priced to move and the nice ladies at the linens table bagged up my selections and wrote my name on the bag so I could continue to shop unencumbered by a giant sack of linens. Check out the photos below to see what else I found:
After staggering out to my truck loaded down with vintage merchandise, I hit the navigation on my phone to find that estate sale. There’s really no other way to do estate sales in my opinion. Gone are the days of driving around aimlessly searching for signage. No more slamming on the brakes and taking turns at 30 miles per hour when you see a sign the reads “yard sale” or “estate sale” with an arrow pointing the way. Plus, I don’t have the added annoyance of twisting my way through a neighborhood only to discover that the sale was the previous week and nobody bothered to take the signs down.
Luck was on my side again at the estate sale. Everything was half price and there was still plenty of cool stuff that shoppers the day before had passed by. I noticed that an old Singer sewing machine was featured in the Craigslist post, so I knew there was bound to be some vintage fabric. I gasped when I saw the coolest quilt in the world laying across the bed. It was pieced together with vintage bark cloth and was probably made about 50 years ago. I suspected that it may be out of my price range because it was so glorious. I did a double take when I saw the sticker. It was marked $10 which meant I got it for $5. I snatched it up as if someone was else was going for it at the same time. A lady sitting at a card table with a money box told me I could put it on the table next to her. Not a chance. I wasn’t letting this thing out of my sight. I tucked it up under my arm and continued to search the other bedrooms. I found some super thick cheap denim fabric, which is good because I was just about out of cheap denim. I also scooped up a few yards of bright red polyester knit, a souvenir plate from the Grand Canyon and a blue ashtray from a California-based restaurant named Fjord’s Smorg-ette, which I discovered was recently torn down to make way for an In-N-Out Burger. I paid nine bucks for all my goods and almost ran out of the house. I imagined that someone would stop me and told me they made a pricing mistake on the quilt. Once safely down the street at my truck, I draped the quilt across the tailgate and snapped a photo so I could show it off on Facebook. I hope that when I’m no longer part of this earth and they sell all my junk off, someone finds something they will treasure.
I was on a roll. I had a few bucks left, so I swung into the Volunteers of America thrift store. This joint always delivers. I seldom go to the VoA without finding some great vintage fabric and/or ugly 1970s neckties and this day was no exception. I was already running dangerously low on my favorite brown and yellow bark cloth. The thrift store gods must have known that, because I found some serious yardage of a fantastic purple bark cloth from the 1950s stuffed into a bag with some other less desirable shimmery synthetic fabric from the 1990s. I also scooped up a couple sweet neckties. One sported a pink tag which meant it was 75% off, which is always nice. I strolled on up to the checkout where the nice lady who rung me up asked, “How are you today?” I cheerfully answered, “I’m super!” Because I was. It was another victorious day of mining Lansing’s second-hand scene for vintage gems.
I don’t know about you, but when I travel, I start scoping out the thrift store scene as soon as I roll into town. Huntsville, Alabama and Johnson City, Tennessee had the goods on some super wide vintage neckties. The Thrift Mart in Huntsville had one of the biggest tie collections I have ever seen in my life and it was teeming with tacky neck wear. I also picked up a few choice vintage ties at the Salvation Army Family Store and the Downtown Rescue Mission Thrift.
When we reached Johnson City, the Salvation Army Family Store had such an abundance of ties that many of them had been tossed into a bin on the floor. I sifted through the tangled mess of polyester and silk and came up with several vintage prizes I believe belonged to one man. I love trying to figure out if a collection of items in a thrift store all came from one person. As evidenced by the couple of clip-on ties and a few more that had been left tied in a Windsor knot, I concluded that all of my new Wembly gems belonged to the same dude. I built a picture in my head of bachelor who is either lazy or doesn’t know how to tie a tie. In either case, the manager seemed thrilled that I had taken some ties off her hands. She didn’t even count them. She just asked me, “How many?” and quickly took my money.
I already have hundreds of neckties that I use when making pockets and straps for my messenger bags, but that won’t stop me. They’re usually about a buck, don’t take up much space in my sewing area and the dazzling array of colors and patterns I find continually blow my mind. I dive into a rack and, pop my head up and yell at Rad, “Ooooh. Look at this one!”
Once I was in a Goodwill and couldn’t find the men’s necktie section. Somebody came out from the sorting room and told me that they had “sent them all back” because they were under the impression that nobody wanted to purchase a bunch of ugly old polyester neckties. Never say never sorting room people. There are folks like me out there who have a significant, but manageable hoarding problem. Here are some more photos of what I scored in Tennessee and Alabama. Be on the lookout for them to appear as an accent to a messenger bag in my Etsy shop:
As we took off down the road from Fayetteville, TN a rainbow materialized across the highway. I took this as a sign of good luck for the I-127 Corridor Sale that runs from Alabama to Michigan for four days every August. We drove toward Chattanooga where we would follow the road north. I knew we were close to the action when traffic slowed to a crawl. We have a yard sale strategy we call “stick and move.” My husband, Rad, will drive by at a creep, while I scope out the scene. If I see some premium junk, we find place to stash the F-150, hop out and survey the scene. There’s a lot to see and I was looking for fabric, old neckties and vintage sewing notions.
After seeing things like deer heads hanging from a telephone poll, cow skulls, an old hippie and tons of rusty bikes, we decided to ease on down the road and search for something to eat. There weren’t many restaurants on this leg of the trail, but we stumbled upon the Lone Oak community center and volunteer fire department combined into one building. And they had chili dogs and sweet tea. A woman played the piano in the large dining area, plus she was taking requests. We passed through the industrial kitchen, scored some hot dogs, corn bread and tea before someone informed us that there was also a book and quilt sale down the hall.
I found a Bargello book for a quarter before passing into the quilt room. A woman sat at a table and asked me if I wanted to purchase a raffle ticket for a huge quilt that hung from the ceiling. I explained that I lived in Michigan so I had no way of picking up the quilt if I were to win the raffle. “Well, we’ll mail it to ya!” she said. Who can argue with that? Wish me luck. I also scored some sweet high-quality corduroy for two bucks a yard. The woman who sold me that raffle ticket measured it out by stretching the material from her nose to her finger tips and I walked out with a sack stuffed full of good quality fabric for about ten bucks.
swatches of corduroy
We plugged on up the road without much luck after that. Second-hand fire arms and rebel flags began to dominate the stops we rode past, and since I am certainly not in the market for those items, we cut over to Nashville and began a new quest for craft beer and fried chicken.