I am pleasantly surprised by a new charity-related resale store that opened in Arlington Heights in January and always happy to give a shout out to new and worthy businesses. There isn’t much information on Humanity United Group; no website as of yet and just a couple of articles in TribLocal and the Daily Herald. Proceeds benefit homeless women and children in need in the Northwest suburbs. HUGS was formed to operate the resale store according to the Chicago Tribune article – a bit of an unusual approach, but certainly entrepreneurial. Typically, a charity exists first and a resale store is established later as a venue for fundraising.
Many years ago I donated all of my unsold collectibles, antiques and better household goods to Clearbrook’s Practically Perfect Resale Shop. That is until their prices became too high and many of my donated items never saw the light of day on the sales floor. While it is still possible to score a bargain now and then at this store, it is so cluttered with beat-up furniture and tightly arranged displays that browsing is difficult. I recently had a close call when I nearly impaled myself on a sharp clothing rack end that was in way too close proximity to the shoes. And as far as those shoes – it is refreshing to see that they dropped the price on shoes from $4.00 to $3.50, but the shoes have been disgusting and outdated of late. In the past I actually scored a pair of Finn Comfort shoes, really cool red and black cowboy boots, and several other nice pairs.
Dunkin’ Donuts at 3350 Kirchoff Road in Rolling Meadows has lost my business – not that it matters since I frequent that location 3-4 times a year at most. I was over in that plaza yesterday to go to the post office and get my hair cut, so I thought, why not? I had in hand a 2 donuts for 99 cents coupon. As I approached the counter, the female clerk immediately asked what I wanted before I could browse the donut selection. The mistake I made was presenting the coupon to her before ordering. She burst out laughing – I looked around and nobody else was in sight so this must have been an inside joke. Yeah, the joke was on me. She stood on her tiptoes and nearly strained her back, reaching all the way to the back row of jelly donuts to grab the puniest munchkin-size donuts ever made. After I looked inside the bag in my car, I realized that this location obviously shafts customers with coupons. These donuts were half the size of the donuts in the front of the tray and really pathetic.
I have never seen such fervent shoppers in my entire life as this morning at the Goodwill store grand opening in Des Plaines. I could barely get in the door – when I succeeded, I was pushed and shoved and within 30 seconds a rude woman slammed several heavy wood serving trays into my side. I couldn’t figure out why there was such an enormous crowd – the checkout line snaked all the way around the store. I stopped counting at 80 people waiting to buy used merchandise! Many of these shoppers had items piled high in their carts and were bound to be waiting for at least an hour for the privilege of buying these irresistible goods.
I have come to the conclusion that for-profit thrift store chains are among the grungiest and most disgusting places in Chicagoland. I have frequented enough stores to theorize that thrift stores that benefit a cause put far more time and effort into choosing and displaying items with some care and forethought. The exception to this rule – the Salvation Army Family Thrift Stores which I previously blogged about. The Village Discount thrift store chain receives my top grunge award for surpassing the helter skelter, dirty slammin’ style of the uniquely sleazy Unique Thrift Store chain. It truly Takes a Village to put the VD back into thrift. The shoes in particular look like they are crawling with VD – I should have worn a Hazmat suit when I visited the store yesterday at 2032 N. Milwaukee. Most of the workers who stock goods wear masks and rubber gloves – I’m not kidding. I saw one worker snarling and looked disgusted as he threw items back onto a shelf in the electronics area. Pardon the expression – more a tangled pile of mainly broken, unusable goods from the looks of it. Most of the items are indeed cheap, but consider that many should be thrown out …
The Unique Thrift Store chain is a far cry from the cool store on Lincoln Avenue of my youth. After I graduated from high school a semester early, my mom and I would go on junking and photo documentary jaunts down Lincoln Avenue. Among my favorite places was a Unique Thrift store a few blocks north of Irving Park. It is there that I picked up this super neat, albeit still not terribly valuable old Kodak camera for a pittance.
Too many thrift stores these days sell merchandise that I would be embarrassed to give away to charity or put out at the curb – dirty stained clothing, broken appliances, chipped/cracked pottery – and often at ridiculously inflated prices. But every so often I am very pleasantly surprised by a hidden gem of a resale/thrift store. Such is the case with Community Threads, a delightfully refreshing store in Buffalo Grove. I say delightful because you won’t find grimy, threadbare, worn-out goods here. Quite the opposite – the selection here is very tasteful and the displays show an enthusiastic commitment to making recycled merchandise enticing to the consumer. A few weeks ago I picked up two pairs of gently used Italian leather loafers for myself at a very reasonable price – I guess I can forgive that there was a wad of gum on the bottom of one sole. Most items here are reasonably priced, with the exception of the furniture and better jewelry sections which have a few pieces priced unrealistically high. The antique furniture and cased collectibles tend to be the priciest, but are very classy and for the most part in impeccable condition. An antique dresser priced at $875 is really out-of-place at a resale store and would even be considered overpriced at an antique store or show. The slightly bruised antique furniture priced in the $150-$275 range is still quite high for a resale store, but may be within the budget of the upscale shopper. Some of these pieces need a little bit of loving care such as minor retouching and a coat of fresh Watco Oil.
Salvation Army Family Thrift Stores are dirty, cluttered, and somewhat disgusting places – especially if you like your thrift clean, classy, and tidy. At least the stores in metro Chicago – I cannot speak to other regions of the country. If you identify with the characters played by Dale Dickey in My Name is Earl and Breaking Bad, or any of Jesse Pinkman’s skanky friends for that matter, then you will dig these stores. While the clothes are sorted with some semblance of order, the knick knacks and housewares tend to be scattered around and in pretty decrepit shape. The shoes are abysmal for the most part – so beat up and gross that I would be embarrassed to donate them to charity, much less resell them!There have been a few notable exceptions – I found new Christian Louboutin sandals a few months ago as well as Prada boots and MBT shoes, but I consider this an anomaly.
Since losing my job, I have patronized resale and thrift shops with more frequency – not for clothes for myself but for new housewares or vintage items to resell on eBay. I have also been on a mission to purge our house of unworn clothing and bric-a-brac purchased on a whim or left over from my days as an antique mall merchant. If we ever want to move, this activity is essential. Goodwill has been my thrift store charity of choice over the last six months. Goodwill has a good mission and their prices are generally reasonable, although some of their Chicagoland stores suffer from the same illogical pricing as other thrift stores we have blogged about. The store in Carpentersville near Woodman’s has deteriorated – both in cleanliness and prices, while the two stores in Arlington Heights and the West Loop are for the most part reasonable.
There are things about Valli Produce in Arlington Heights that I really like, but this store is fraught with some of the same perils as the other produce stores I have blogged about. They recently remodeled this location and the sleek new look is a vast improvement. Their prices, selection, and quality are generally quite good, although some items are high compared to Joe Caputo & Sons. For instance, during the same sale period, Rapini was $1.79 a pound at Valli and only .89 cents a pound at Joe Caputo & Sons. My primary complaints relate to the clientele and parking lot, but I have also experienced behavior on the part of workers that borders on downright rude. On my last visit, I found an open cashier and she was chomping on an apple. Instead of putting it down, she made me wait until she had devoured the entire thing. It would be understandable if she was on a break, but she was not and really should have rung up my order instead of making me wait. On a positive note, she did apologize. The week before, we encountered a cashier who was yapping on her cell phone while ringing us up – she never disengaged from the call and was still talking as we left. Needless to say, this slowed things down – maybe there should be a law about distracted cashiering. While these behaviors are a bit irksome, the stockers are completely oblivious to the existence of customers. They will not budge an inch if you are trying to select produce where they are stocking and they barrel their hand trucks through aisles with reckless glee – nearly knocking you over. These things, however, pale in comparison to the customers.